Indiana describes its game wardens as a “thin green line” protecting the state’s varied natural resources. Indiana employs over 200 game wardens, officially known as conservation officers, who are tasked with enforcing the laws and regulations of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, including wildlife and environmental protection laws and boating and hunting regulations. They provide a law enforcement presence in Indiana’s 25 state parks to ensure a safe environment for members of the public enjoying the Indiana outdoors. Indiana conservation officers also investigate cases of timber theft and groundwater contamination and provide public education and training in hunting and boating and other outdoor activities.
The office of game warden in Indiana carries with it a rich history. In 1911, the Indiana State Legislature passed a law establishing the position of game warden. By 1921, the average Indiana game wardens was making 55 arrests annually, more than the game wardens of any other state. The state legislature officially changed the title of Indiana game wardens to “conservation officer” in 1939 and invested them with full police powers two years later, reflecting the deep regard with which Indiana has traditionally viewed these professionals.
Steps to Becoming a Game Warden with the Indiana Department of
Prerequisites and Degree Requirements:
By the time an applicant applies for formal job training through the Indiana Conservation Officer (ICO) School, candidates should have an associate’s degree or have completed 60 credit hours toward a four-year degree in any field. The ICO School places an emphasis on excellent communication skills, both written and oral. The strongest candidates will have good grades in high school and beyond, with a record of having participated in extracurricular activities.
Beyond postsecondary education requirements, Indiana conservation officer job candidates must meet the following prerequisites:
- Be a citizen of the United States
- Be at least 21 years old
- Meet standards set by the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board for physical fitness, agility, and psychomotor skills
- Be able to swim non-stop for at least 100 yards and tread water for at least five minutes
- Have a valid driver’s license
- Be willing to refrain from political activity prohibited by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources
- Have a record free of felony and domestic battery convictions
- Not be legally prohibited from carrying a firearm
- Be willing to use deadly force to protect other in the capacity of a law enforcement officer
- Have no outstanding arrest warrants
- Not be subject to a restraining order limiting contact or proximity with an intimate partner or child
- Not use or be addicted to substances classified as controlled under Indiana law
- No record of conviction by a military court martial
- Willing to reside and serve anywhere within the state of Indiana
- Willing to pay own relocation expenses if necessary
- Willing to cover body art and tattoos while on duty and in uniform
Preparing for Training through the Indiana Conservation Officer (ICO) School:
Those looking to become game wardens in Indiana must complete training through the Indiana Conservation Officer (ICO) School. Successful applicants to the program will demonstrate the following qualities:
- Strong Moral Character – All candidates undergo a thorough background investigation, including a polygraph. Successful applicants for Indiana game warden positions will avoid criminal behavior and substance abuse. During the hiring process, honesty and integrity are important above all. Lying about a youthful indiscretion may be worse than the offense itself.
- Leadership – In selecting future conservation officers, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources looks for men and women who are demonstrated leaders with records of public service. Teens interested in a conservation officer career can satisfy this requirement by volunteering at a local hospital, becoming a 4-H leader, taking on leadership positions with sports or church groups or local civic organizations, or becoming education instructors in hunting, boating, or trapping.
- Strong Work History – Candidates for ICO School should have a work history that shows commitment, punctuality, willingness to work, and the ability to form positive and productive relationships in the workplace. A line of work related to law enforcement and/or to outdoors pursuits or nature is encouraged.
- Healthy Lifestyle – Indiana conservation officers, as law enforcement agents, are required to lead a healthy lifestyle, both physically and psychologically. This means achieving a high standard of physical fitness through regular exercise and a balanced diet, as well as a healthy social and public life, supported by positive relationships and social connections and wholesome recreational pursuits. Candidates for ICO School should be prudent with their internet usage, staying away from pornography and being cautious about their activities on social media.
- Maturity – Candidates for Indiana conservation officers should be full-fledged adults with a demonstrable ability to handle the demands of daily life, including paying bills and meeting obligations to others, taking care of one’s self, and engaging in careful independent decision-making.
- An Understanding of the Duties of an Indiana Conservation Officer – Individuals who wish to become game wardens in Indiana should have an interest in nature and participate in outdoor activities. They should understand that a conservation officer’s duties cover a wide territory and can include everything from providing first aid for an insect bite to recovering dead bodies from state parks to investigating, pursuing, and arresting dangerous criminal perpetrators.
Young people who are contemplating a future career as an Indiana conservation officer are encouraged to get involved with one of Indiana’s nature-oriented educational programs for children and teens, such as the Karl Kelley Youth Camp or the Indiana Hunter Education Association.
- A Career-Oriented Mindset – Candidates for ICO School should be willing to commit to working as a conservation officer for the DNR until retirement.
The application process for candidates who wish to become Indiana conservation officers can take anywhere from seven months to a year before their admission to ICO School. Candidates first take a written exam that tests basic skills in reading, math, and grammar. If they score high enough on the exam, candidates then undergo a structured interview process and background investigation.
They must also pass a physical fitness test and a swim test before receiving a conditional job offer and taking four weeks of training and instruction at ICO School. Once a candidate has successfully completed ICO training, he or she may be appointed to a position anywhere in Indiana where conservation officers are needed.
Becoming a Federal Game Warden in Indiana
Indiana’s natural habitats are home to twenty-three wildlife species that are classified as federally endangered or threatened, or otherwise considered candidates for such classification. These include the Indiana bat, the least tern, and the white cat’s paw pearly mussel. Indiana conservation officers cooperate with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agents to protect these federally protected species within Indiana.
The application process to become a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is very competitive. There are only about 250 of these law enforcement positions nationwide. To be chosen for the position, an applicant must meet the following requirements:
- Be between the ages of 21 and 37
- Graduate from a four-year college or university, preferably with a degree in wildlife management, criminal justice, or a similar field
- Submit to a thorough background check and undergo drug testing
- Submit to psychological screening and meet strict medical and physical requirements
New special agents undergo twenty weeks of training in criminal investigation, wildlife law enforcement, and firearm accuracy at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia.
Protecting Indiana’s Natural Resources on State and Federal Land
Indiana offers a varied terrain and environment for the outdoor enthusiast. While north and central Indiana is characterized by plains and prairie land, the lake country of northwest Indiana offers sand dunes and beaches, and the southwestern corner of the state boasts rolling hills and rougher terrain.
In addition to its ample forests and plentiful hiking trails, Indiana contains over 1000 lakes and 24,000 miles of river and is bordered by Lake Michigan to the north and the Ohio River to the south, making it a prime playground for water lovers, including boaters, fishers, and swimmers.
Indiana’s 25 state parks include:
- Tippecanoe River State Park, which boasts a newly rehabilitated observation deck.
- Indiana Dunes State Park, which inludes the newly created J.D.Marshall Preserve, a nature preserve that hosts the historic ship, the J.D. Marshall, which lies shipwrecked in Lake Michigan less than 600 yards from the park’s shoreline.
- Fort Harrison State Park located in Central Indiana near the state capitol of Indianapolis.
- Cataract Falls State Recreation Area in Spencer Indiana, which boasts the state’s largest waterfall.
- McCormick’s Creek State Park, near Bloomington, Indiana, which is the oldest park in the Indiana State Park System.
Running the gamut from beaches and sand dunes to forests to prairies to lakes, rivers, and streams, Indiana’s state parks offer a wide variety of outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, swimming, hiking, camping, picnicking, biking, horseback riding, cross-country skiing, bird and wildlife watching, and hunting turkey, waterfowl, and deer.
In addition to hosting a wide variety of state park lands and nature preserves, Indiana is also home to three federal National Wildlife Refuges:
- Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge near Madison, Indiana, is noteworthy for population of river otters and has been designated a “globally important bird area” because it hosts 500 breeding pair of endangered Henslow sparrows.
- Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge near Bloomington Indiana is home to more than 280 species of birds including the wood duck.
- Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge, a protected area in the wetlands surrounding the Pakota River, serves as nesting habitat for numerous species of migratory birds.
Indiana Wildlife Officer Salary
Conservation officers of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) begin their careers as trainees, who earn an annual salary of $42,000. Once the one-year training and the probationary period ends, the salary for these professionals increases to $48,000.
Afterwards, salaries for conservation officers increase according to the 20-year matrix schedule (salary schedule is the same for Indiana state troopers):
- Conservation Officer: $52,000-$74,500
- Corporal: $56,974-$77,885
- Sergeant: $59,560-$81,149
- First Sergeant: $62,264-$85,117
- Lieutenant: $65,090-$88,978
- Captain: $68,044-$93,014
- Major: $71,133-$97,237
- Lieutenant Colonel: $74,361-$101,651
- Colonel: $77,737-$106,264
Conservation officers with more than 20 years of completed service also receive longevity pay based on their rank and years of service. For general conservation officers, this annual bonus (added to the base pay) is anywhere between $500 for 21 years of service to $5,965 for 34 years of service.
Salary and employment data compiled by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources – https://www.in.gov/dnr/lawenfor/10195.htm. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment for conservation officers. 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 July 2019.