Fish and game wardens, also commonly referred to as conservation officers and wildlife officers, are law enforcement officers responsible for the protection and conservation of fish and wildlife at the state and/or federal level.
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State game wardens are employed through the state’s fish, parks and wildlife department, while federal game wardens are employed through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a federal agency within the Department of the Interior.
Although job duties and responsibilities for game wardens vary according to the agency and the location in which they work, their mission is the same: to protect the fish and wildlife resources of a certain area. For example, Wyoming game wardens, who are employed through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, are responsible for protecting the more than 800 species of fish and wildlife in the state, which includes 100 game species typically pursued by hunters and anglers.
Game Warden Career Information by State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Wildlife Officer Jobs: What to Expect
Game warden jobs may be found in state and national parks, as well as lakes, forests, coastal regions, and mountain areas, just to name a few. Their work may take them through heavily wooded areas and steep coastlines or it may require them to work through hazardous weather conditions and even during natural disasters.
Although the primary duty of a conservation officer is to enforce federal and state regulations regarding the protection and conservation of wildlife, their specific job descriptions may vary quite a bit, depending on where they are posted. Duties of wildlife officers may typically include:
- Managing and protecting wildlife populations
- Tracking and apprehending poachers
- Coordinating and overseeing wildlife conservation programs
- Ensuring public safety regarding contact with wildlife
- Ensuring all hunters and anglers are properly licensed
Today’s wildlife officers, however, are facing a number of new challenges. The scope of fish and game warden jobs have increased significantly in recent years, as they confront a number of new issues that impact wildlife, including:
- Persistent and widespread drought conditions
- Energy development
- Urban development and encroachment
- Emerging wildlife diseases
- Invasive species
The capacity in which wildlife officers work may be distinctly different. For example, some game and fish wardens may work in field-based positions alongside fish and wildlife biologists, while the duties of others may focus solely on information and conservation education.
Fish and Game Career Opportunities
Careers as game wardens are often quite appealing because of their diversity, excitement, flexibility, and their work with the environment. These jobs afford new challenges and opportunities on a near-daily basis. For example, one day a game warden may be conducting license checks on anglers, while on another day the game warden may be working alongside private landowners to prevent illegal poaching on their land. Areas of work therefore often include:
Public Service – Wildlife officers, in addition to working in the field, often serve as liaisons between the public and the wildlife department. For example, they may coordinate public safety programs and classes regarding game, fish, trapping and boating laws.
Law Enforcement – The law enforcement aspect of a game warden’s job is often the most crucial, as most game wardens spend a significant amount of their time enforcing fish and wildlife laws and protecting a region’s diverse wildlife resources.
Wildlife Management – Game wardens must take an active role in wildlife management. As such, many of these law enforcement professionals spend time collecting and analyzing biological data that is then used to manage fish and wildlife populations.
Special Missions – Wildlife officers may be involved in special missions or efforts. For example, it is not uncommon for these professionals to be involved in everything from the airlift rescue of stranded hikers to the evacuation efforts during a natural disaster.
For example, game wardens in Texas have even become involved in specialty “scout teams” that work alongside local and state authorities to assist in times of crisis. As fully commissioned peace officers, the game wardens of these scout teams often assist in border operations and other high-risk law enforcement operations, where they are called upon to serve felony arrests and participate in hostage situations.
Fish and Game Warden Job Data by State
Individuals seeking jobs as game wardens may pursue a career through a state wildlife agency, a local agency, or through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. As of 2011, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employed 250 special agents. As of May 2012, there were 5,770 fish and game wardens employed at the state level, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and just 560 employed at the local level.
The BLS reported that the states with the highest employment level for conservation officers, as of May 2012, were:
- Florida: 630
- California: 480
- Georgia: 430
- Texas: 410
- Tennessee: 350
The BLS also reported, during the same time, the following metropolitan areas had the highest employment level for conservation officers:
- Tallahassee, Florida: 150
- Nashville/Davidson/Murfreesboro/Franklin, Tennessee: 70
- Phoenix/Mesa/Glendale, Arizona: 60
- Baltimore/Towson, Maryland: 60
- Providence/Fall River/Warwick, Rhode Island/Massachusetts: 40
- Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk, Connecticut: 30
- Jacksonville, Florida: 30