Wisconsin is home to a variety of protected areas, including prairies, forests, lakes, and rivers. Becoming a fish and game warden in Wisconsin is an excellent career option for those who enjoy being outdoors and who want to preserve and protect Wisconsin’s land, animals, and natural resources for future generations to enjoy.
Fish and game wardens in Wisconsin are called “conservation wardens” and they are law enforcement officers who protect the state’s natural resources. They have full police authority on all DNR-owned or managed property and expanded authority statewide. Their primary concern includes:
- Wildlife and fish
- Recreational vehicles such as boats, ATVs, and snowmobiles
- First responder/emergency management
- Environmental protection
- Water regulation
- Forestry laws
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Job and Training Requirements
Minimum qualifications for becoming a conservation warden in Wisconsin include:
- 60 credits from an accredited university or college
- Valid Wisconsin driver’s license
- 21 years of age
- No felony or domestic violence convictions
- Excellent health (physical, emotional, mental)
- Successfully passing the minimum fitness and swimming assessments
Although the minimum acceptable level of education is 60 credits, well-qualified applicants will have a bachelor’s degree in natural resources, environmental protection, law enforcement, emergency management, public administration, or similar fields of study.
In addition to the minimum requirements, a variety of beneficial skills and knowledge include:
- Habits and habitats of wildlife common to Wisconsin
- Proper use of equipment used in hunting, trapping, and fishing
- Good observation and recall
- Use, care, and maintenance of firearms, vehicles, (boats, ATVs, snowmobiles, etc.), and other outdoor equipment
- Public speaking
Desirable applicants are those who are interested in protecting Wisconsin’s natural resources and interacting with citizens. Those who can work both in a team setting as well as alone without close supervision are highly desirable.
Applicants for the position of a Wisconsin conservation warden can prepare for the role by participating in a variety of volunteer activities such as educational, conservation, and safety programs sponsored by the Department of Natural Resources.
- Grand Canyon University - B.S. in Justice Studies and M.S. in Criminal Justice
- SNHU - Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Rasmussen College - Law Enforcement Associate's Degree and Post-Degree Certificates; Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Utica College - Online Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice
- Penn Foster - Online Wildlife and Forestry Conservation Career Diploma
Candidates interested in game warden jobs are encouraged to monitor the employment listings on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website, set up an account on Wisc.Jobs, and subscribe to the Warden Wire, a free e-mail service that provides updates about cases, recreation opportunities, safety tips, FAQs, and other pertinent information about the work conservation wardens perform.
The application process includes:
- An online exam
- A written assessment
- Personal interviews
- An extensive background check
- Medical testing (physical, psychological, vision, hearing)
Recent changes regarding candidate fitness requires applicants to maintain a minimum level of fitness as measured by running, push-ups, weightlifting, sit-ups, vertical jump, and a flex box test. Each recruit will have a baseline score, and will be re-tested during training to assure fitness standards are being met. A mandatory swim test and water confidence assessment are also part of the process.
Applicants who qualify as conservation warden recruits go through two probationary years of training, the first of which is formal training and includes 520 hours of law enforcement certification training. The second year takes place in an assigned county or field station with an assigned field warden as a mentor. Once field training is satisfactorily completed, a permanent assignment is given.
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources provides information on conservation officer employment opportunities for both permanent jobs and Limited Term Employment openings. Interested candidates can also find information on ride-along and internship opportunities that provide invaluable field experience, on-the-job training and a chance to meet conservation officers with years of experience working in Wisconsin’s wilderness areas.
Becoming a Federal Game Warden in Wisconsin
Wisconsin is home to several national wildlife refuge areas, wetland management districts, and fish hatcheries which fall under the jurisdiction of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These include the Fox River National Wildlife Refuge, the St. Croix Wetlands Management District, and the Iron River National Fish Hatchery. Federal game wardens are called US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agents. To qualify, applicants must:
- Meet strict medical, physical, and psychological requirements
- Undergo an extensive background check
- Be at least 21 years of age, but less than 37 years of age
- Have a valid driver’s license
- Be in excellent physical condition
- Meet firearms qualifications
A bachelor’s degree in wildlife management, criminal justice or similar field is preferred. Information about available positions can be found on the USA Jobs website.
Once accepted, candidates undergo 20 weeks of formal training in criminal investigations and wildlife law enforcement. They then complete a 44-week field training program under the supervision of experienced officers. Specific details about the types of jobs, qualifications, training, and other information about US Fish and Wildlife Special Agents can be found on the US Fish and Wildlife Service website.
Special Agents with the US Fish and Wildlife Service investigate wildlife crimes and enforce federal wildlife laws ranging from smuggling to unlawful hunting. They often work undercover and may work closely with other federal, state, or local law enforcement entities.
Wisconsin’s Parks and Natural Resource Areas
Almost half of Wisconsin is covered by forest, as well as more than 11,000 square miles of lakes and rivers, including the Mississippi River and two of the Great Lakes: Superior and Michigan. Wisconsin has more than 600 protected natural areas that provide refuge for many plant and animal species and that offer places for recreation.
With such a wealth of natural resources, Wisconsin has a rich supply of options for hunting, fishing, trapping, water sports, hiking, birding, and other forms of outdoor activities. The Kettle Moraine State Forest, the Elroy-Sparta State Trail, and the Coffey Swamp State Natural Area are just three examples of the types of public lands set aside for outdoor recreation in the state of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin’s conservation wardens help to enforce the laws and regulations for hunting, trapping, and fishing by verifying licenses and making sure hunters and anglers follow the state’s guidelines for size, quantity, and season. Whitetail deer is very prevalent in the state, and more than 600,000 deer hunting licenses are sold annually. Other game animals include:
- Black bear
- Wild Turkey
Conservation wardens also monitor the trapping of animals such as:
The lakes and rivers of Wisconsin provide ample opportunities for fishing as well:
- Large and Smallmouth bass
- Lake sturgeon
Conservation wardens in Wisconsin also enforce rules and regulations for outdoor recreational activities, which vary from ice fishing and snowmobiling in the winter to boating, camping, and hiking during the rest of the year. As a part of the law enforcement community, conservation wardens may also be called upon to respond to emergencies and to assist other municipal, county and state law enforcement agencies.
Wisconsin Wildlife Officer Salary
The conservation warden recruits of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources must complete a 24-month probationary period, which includes 12 months of training in the DNR’s law enforcement academy, field training assignments, and specialized training weeks. After training is complete, recruits are assigned to their field station at the beginning of their second year.
The State of Washington’s Compensation Plan created a ‘pay upon appointment’ rule that hires conservation wardens at a minimum of $49,774 and a maximum of $67,080, depending on experience.
The compensation plan also includes a pay progression plan that depends on the number of years of experience:
- 3 years: $51,417
- 5 years: $53,019
- 7 years: $56,284
- 9 years: $60,611
- 11 years: $67,100
Salary and employment data compiled by the State of Wisconsin Division of Personnel Management – https://dpm.wi.gov/Documents/BCER/Compensation/15-17%20Comp%20Plan%20Materials/SectionZ.pdf. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment for conservation wardens. Data represents state salary ranges for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
Salary data accessed in August 2019.