As Arizona’s game wardens carry out their job duties, they may encounter everything from illegal hunters, drug smugglers and gunrunners to legitimate appreciators of the outdoors – and they must be able to correctly distinguish who is who. Officially known as wildlife managers under the employ of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, these dedicated public servants are responsible for the enforcement of wildlife laws and protection of the public, working in places where most people vacation.
Arizona’s game wardens serve six national forests, 30 state parks, and nine national wildlife refuges. Having a strong educational background is essential for those who wish to become a game warden in Arizona.
Becoming a Game Warden with the Arizona Game and Fish Department
Earning a Bachelor’s Degree – One of the most important game warden requirements is education. The Arizona Game and Fish Department requires all wildlife manager applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Science or a closely related wildlife management field.
Although not a direct substitution for education, the department will also make considerations for coursework in this area combined with related work experience.
Prospective federal game wardens, to be discussed momentarily, are also expected to hold a bachelor’s degree in areas such as:
- Wildlife Science
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Law Enforcement
- Criminal Justice
- Land Management
Submitting an Application with the Game and Fish Department – Applicants who are US citizens at least 21 years of age can apply to become a fish and game warden through the state’s employment website. Applications must be made through a job announcement, which can be found under the Game and Fish Department heading, or by searching for the job ID code 8299.
For a select group of competitive applicants, a series of evaluations and interviews will follow the initial application:
- Background investigation
- Medical exam and drug test
- Psychological evaluation
- Physical fitness test:
- One minute sit-ups
- One minute push-ups
- 1.5-mile run
Wildlife Manager Training – Applicants who have made it through the hiring process will next encounter the game warden training regimen, totaling nearly 43 weeks and covering four phases. This begins with one week of introductory training at the Game and Fish Department’s headquarters in Phoenix.
Next comes the 585-hour Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Academy, described to be both mentally and physically challenging. All law enforcement officers in the state must complete this basic academy, which provides instruction on policing essentials like:
- Surveillance and interrogation
- Crime scene investigation
- Arrest and control
- Driving maneuvers
- Firearms training
- Watercraft patrol
Graduation and POST Certification is followed by a 14-week Wildlife Manager Training Academy that takes place both in a classroom environment and in the field, involving extensive camping. Finally this is followed by another 14-week course, the Wildlife Manager Training Officer (WMTO) program. The WMTO program takes place entirely in the field with an experienced training officer who provides on-the-job instruction at locations throughout the state.
Becoming a Game Wardens with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Besides the Arizona Game and Fish Department, the federal US Fish and Wildlife Service also operates throughout Arizona as requested by local authorities and to manage federal lands and popular tourist destinations:
- Canyon de Chelly
- Saguaro National Park
- Havasu Falls
- Monument Valley
- Grand Canyon
To become a federal game warden requires completing a completely different process with key differences from the state game warden process. These federal-level employees must:
- Apply for the officially named Service Special Agent positions with the US Fish and Wildlife Service through the USA Jobs website
- Are preferred to have a bachelor degree in a field related to Criminal Justice or Wildlife Management
- Must be between 21-36 years old
- Complete training in two phases:
- 20 weeks of wildlife management and criminal investigations training in Georgia
- 44 weeks of field training at sites across the nation
Recent Poacher Interdiction in Arizona
An important part of a wildlife manager’s job is the investigation and arrest of poachers. While most hunters have a respect for nature and the law, poachers often exhibit a disregard for sportsmanship and rules, stealing natural resources from the honest residents of Arizona. Game wardens often rely on the eyes of the public to stop these crimes, with two recent success stories stemming from a poaching hotline.
Thanks to a tip received on the Game and Fish Department’s hotline, four men were recently arrested for poaching activity along the Little Colorado River near Springerville. Charges were related to the crimes of spotlighting, hunting out of season, and leaving meat to waste. Vandalism was added to the list because the poachers allegedly damaged locked fences. The men may also be fined $1,500 or more for each of the four deer they killed.
Several members of the public came forward after an $8,000 reward was offered for information on a poaching incident near Apache Junction at Canyon Lake involving two bighorn sheep. Acting on the information, game wardens arrested a Mesa man who made a written confession, provided the weapon that had killed the sheep, and led investigators to a buried bighorn sheep’s head in his backyard.
Arizona Wildlife Officer Salary
In 2013 the Arizona Department of Administration, Office of Employment and Population Statistics reported that the median Arizona game warden salary was $45,660, while the average was $46,912. Game wardens in the top ten percent earned a reported average of $61,927, which was 24% above the average.
Also, the Arizona Department of Administration found that game wardens employed in the Phoenix metropolitan area received an average income of $48,416. The median in the Phoenix area was $47,383. In addition, those employed in Apache County were paid an average of $47,071 per year.
Here, the Arizona Department of Administration, Human Resources, has identified more specifically some of the career opportunities and salary expectations for game wardens in Arizona (2013):
Wildlife Specialist 1
Wildlife Specialist 2
Wildlife Specialist 3
Wildlife Manager 1
Wildlife Manager 2
Wildlife Manager 3
Shown here is salary information for game wardens in Yuma as compiled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2013: