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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in California

In many regards California cannot be compared to any other state in the country, and this is undoubtedly true when it comes to its variety of natural wildlife resources and the amount of people who interact with them. The fact that California is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, as well as being the most populous state in the nation, while at the same time being home to 17 national forests, around 200 state parks, and 38 national wildlife refuges, all combine to make managing the state’s natural resources a huge responsibility.

California’s game wardens, also known as wildlife officers, bear this responsibility 24 hours a day all year long. From enforcing wildlife laws to ensuring recreation in the outdoors is safe, the state’s game wardens use the latest technology and methodology to get the job done right.

Learning how to become a game warden in California is an important first step all prospective wildlife officers must take.

Becoming a Game Warden with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Education Requirements – Candidates looking at how to become a fish and game warden in California can start by learning about the education requirements for these jobs.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife stipulates that applicants must:

  • Have completed two years of college education in areas including or closely related to:
    • Biological Sciences
    • Law Enforcement
    • Police Science
    • Crime Scene Investigation
    • Wildlife Management

Applying with the California Department of Wildlife – US citizens who are at least 18 years old with no significant criminal record may apply to become a wildlife officer with the California Department of Wildlife. To do this, candidates will need to monitor the Department’s Current Exam Bulletin for a wildlife officer exam announcement. This usually occurs once a year. Once this is posted, a State Examination Application (STD 678) may be submitted to:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Human Resource Branch Room 1217B, Attn: Exam Unit
1416 Ninth Street
Sacramento, CA 95814

Applicants that meet the minimum requirements will be scheduled to take an exam testing the candidate’s understanding of a game warden’s duties and responsibilities, as well as their problem solving, writing, and reading abilities. The exams are usually scheduled annually in January.

Successful candidates will continue to be invited back to complete successive steps of the hiring process, which take about a year to complete in total:

  • Chief’s interview
  • Medical evaluation, including vision, sight, and drug tests
  • Thorough background investigation, taking an average of three to four weeks to complete
  • Psychological evaluation
  • Physical ability test:
    • 100-yard swim
    • Aerobic capacity
    • Arm, leg, and back strength

State Game Warden Training – Wildlife officer training takes place in two phases. First is the 31-week Fish and Game Warden Resources Academy. This constitutes the bulk of game warden training with an emphasis on law enforcement procedures, and includes:

  • Recognition of hunting, fishing, and trapping gear
  • Emergency vehicle operation
  • Unarmed self-defense
  • Firearms training
  • Emergency Spanish
  • Drug and narcotics enforcement
  • Interrogation and interview techniques

Following completion of this academy is another 10 weeks with three different field training officers at sites across the state. It is during this period that new game wardens will put their freshly developed skills to the test under the supervision of an experienced wildlife officer.

Becoming a Federal Game Warden in California

Game warden positions at the federal level can also be an option for interested candidates. Because these positions are through the federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the game warden requirements for employment are slightly different:

  • Candidates are preferred who have a bachelor degree in Criminal Justice, Wildlife Management, or another closely related field
  • Applications are made for these game warden jobs, known officially as Special Agents with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, through the federal employment website
  • Applicants need to be between the ages of 21 and 36

The game warden training for these positions takes place over a two-step process. This begins with a 20-week basic training course in Georgia covering wildlife law enforcement and criminal investigations. This is followed by an additional 44 weeks spent with a field training officer on-location, where new game wardens will receive on-the-job training.

Federal game wardens can assist their state counterparts as requested and are especially important in federally managed areas and iconic tourist hot spots, including:

  • Joshua Tree National Park
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park
  • Redwood National and State Parks
  • Yosemite National Park
  • Death Valley National Park


Working as a Game Warden in California

Game wardens in California manage the wildlife and those who enjoy the outdoors throughout the state, in areas including:

  • Along 1,100 miles of ocean coastline and 30,000 miles of rivers and streams
  • Among more than 1,000 native fish and wildlife species and 6,300 native plant species
  • Monitoring over three million permits and licenses issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife annually
  • Patrolling three-quarters of the nation’s desert habitats

This also means enforcing wildlife laws for the sport fishermen who land more than 300 million pounds of commercial fish every year. Game wardens have had to lay the law down in several recent marine poaching cases:

  • 13 suspects were arrested on charges relating to abalone poaching off Mendocino and Sonoma beaches. More than 100 game wardens participated in the operation which was the culmination of several weeks of surveillance.
  • A Sacramento family of three was recently arrested for illegally selling sport-caught fish. Under California law, only commercial fishing enterprises are allowed to sell fish on the market. Poaching charges were brought after game wardens conducted a month of surveillance on the family.
  • A San Francisco-area resident was recently sentenced to pay over $24,000 in fines and restitution fees after being convicted of shark poaching. The details of the man’s scheme involved selling young sharks over the internet, supporting a lucrative exotic pet market.

California Wildlife Officer Salary

According to the State of California, Employment Development Department, the median fish and game warden salary in the state was $72,342 in 2013, which comes to about $34.78 per hour. Fish and game wardens start out as cadets while undergoing a 12- to 14-week training course. During this time, they are paid a monthly wage of between $3,267 and $4,278, depending on their level of experience.

Once training has been completed, they are conferred the title of Fish and Game Warden and are paid under the following salary schedules:

Range A: $42,972 to $56,376
Range B: $51,252 to $67,704
Fish and game wardens in California also receive a variety of differentials, including:

Recruitment and Retention: $175 per month (all warden levels)
Education Incentives:
Associate’s Degree: $50 per month
Bachelor’s Degree: $100 per month

Longevity Pay:
17-18 Years: 1%
19 Years: 2%
20 Years: 3%
21 Years: 4%
22-24 Years: 5%
25+ Years: 7%
There is also a geographic differential for game wardens living in one of 17 counties throughout the state considered high cost counties. This differential is based on job classification and can range anywhere from $220 to $350 per month. Some of these areas include Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco.

Additional fish and game warden positions in California include:

Fish and Game Lieutenant (Specialist)

Minimum Salary: $57,204
Maximum Salary: $77,052
Fish and Game Lieutenant (Supervisor)

Minimum Salary: $57,240
Maximum Salary: $77,880
Fish and Game Captain

Minimum Salary: $65,616
Maximum Salary: $89,448
State of California, Employment Development Department, 2013

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