How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in Iowa

Iowa’s game wardens, known as conservation officers, comprise the Law Enforcement Bureau of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  The DNR is the state agency tasked with conserving Iowa’s natural resources, including wildlife and their natural habitats. Iowa’s conservation officers are also responsible for protecting the environment, and managing parks, forests, and fisheries.

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Iowa employs nearly 100 conservation officers whose primary function is to enforce the environmental and wildlife regulations promulgated by the DNR. In Iowa, conservation officers are full-fledged law enforcement agents. As official state peace officers, they are authorized to enforce all state laws in Iowa, not only wildlife and environmental regulations.

The main duties of Iowa’s conservation officers include:

  • The enforcement of laws and regulations related to hunting, fishing, trapping, snowmobiling, and off-road vehicles.
  • The investigation of crimes and accidents involving outdoor recreation or taking place on public recreational lands.
  • The inspection of commercial users of Iowa’s natural resources, including bait dealers, game breeders, and taxidermists.
  • The conduct of educational workshops for both children and adults in hunting, survival skills, and other topics germane to the use and enjoyment of Iowa’s natural resources.
  • Acting as a liaison between the public and the community, including the media and the school system, on matters related to natural resources.

How to Become a Game Warden with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Prerequisites and Degree Preferences:

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources seeks conservation officers who are independent workers with good communication skills and high ethical standards. Applicants must have at least a high school diploma or the equivalent.

A four-year college degree in criminal justice, biology, fish and wildlife management, or a related field, is preferred. A history of participation in outdoor recreation, as well as work or academic experience in natural resources or environmental protection is also desirable.

Iowa’s prospective conservation officers must meet the following prerequisites, which are applicable to all candidates for law enforcement positions in Iowa:

  • Be a United States citizen
  • Be an Iowa resident or plan to become an Iowa resident upon appointment
  • Be at least 21 years old but no more than 65 years old
  • Be licensed to drive in Iowa
  • Be free of substance abuse problems
  • Be able to pass a thorough background check
  • Have no record of conviction of a felony or crime involving moral turpitude
  • Pass rigorous tests of physical fitness
  • Undergo a medical examination and meet agency-imposed medical standards
  • Have no objections to the use of force in the line of duty when necessary
  • Have uncorrected vision of at least 20/100 and corrected vision of 20/20 in both eyes and not be severely colorblind
  • Have normal hearing or sufficient hearing with hearing aids to perform law enforcement duties

Qualities of Successful Applicants for Iowa Game Warden Positions:

In hiring conservation officers, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources looks for individuals with the following characteristics:

  • Basic knowledge of the principles of fish and game management;
  • Basic knowledge of the principles of nature conservations;
  • Familiarity with state and federal laws and regulations related to wildlife and the environment;
  • Ability to perform rigorous physical work under all weather conditions;
  • High moral character, demonstrating integrity and honesty;
  • Excellent communication skills, including the ability to deal with members of the public in a courteous manner;
  • Ability to work without supervision;
  • Dedication to the mission of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources;
  • Ability to follow the guidance of supervisors and adhere to department policy;
  • Ability to work as a member of a team.
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Application Process:

The application process for Iowa conservation officers is very competitive. In 2010, 16 conservations officers were hired out of a pool of 540 candidates. Applicants should be extremely motivated to work in a natural setting and in a law enforcement capacity. The selection process for Iowa conservation officers involves a thorough interview process as well as tests of physical agility, cognitive skills, and psychological make-up. As law enforcement officers, Iowa conservation officers must meet the requirements to become an Iowa state peace officer.

Probationary Conservation Officer Academy:

Candidates selected to become Iowa conservation officers undergo their initial 14-week basic training at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy. Skills emphasized during training include firearm accuracy, defensive tactics, law enforcement driving, rescue techniques, and written and oral communication.

New conservation officers must also attend the Probationary Conservation Officer Academy, which lasts eight week and emphasizes skills, procedures, and subject matters unique to the conservation officer position, including:

  • Water and ice safety
  • Enforcement of navigation laws
  • ATV operations
  • Aquatic education
  • Permit issuance
  • Laws and regulations related to hunting, fishing, and trapping

Following basic training and Probationary Conservation Officer Academy, new Iowa conservation officers undergo a nine-week on-the-job Field Training Program, during which they are paired with experienced conservations officers who act as mentors.

Becoming a Federal Game Warden in Iowa

In Iowa, game warden jobs are also available through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where they are known officially as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agents. These agents protect Iowa’s natural resources and investigate criminal activities against wildlife and the environment within Iowa territory. Becoming a federal game warden in Iowa requires applying directly to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and meeting the following prerequisites:

  • Be at least 21 but not older than 37;
  • Have a four-year college degree, preferably in a field related to environmental management or criminal justice;
  • Pass a background check, which includes drug testing;
  • Pass psychological and physical testing.

Applicants selected to train for positions as U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agents spend twenty weeks at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, working on firearm accuracy and other law enforcement skills and studying principles of wildlife law enforcement.

Protecting Iowa’s Resources on State and Federal Lands

Iowa’s numerous wilderness and recreation areas, offer a wide range of outdoor activities, including hiking, bicycling, camping, and bird watching.

Iowa has seven state recreation areas. Recreation areas are generally open to the public 24 hours a day and are open to hunting and fishing under state regulation. Some recreation areas are also open to beachgoers and campers

  • Badger Creek State Recreation Area, in Madison County, Iowa, offers superb fishing opportunities in Badger Lake, which contains populations of largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and catfish.
  • Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, in Lehigh, Iowa, offers one of the most modern camping facilities for equestrians in the Midwest. Brushy Creek also offers a target range and a shotgun range for shooters.
  • Pleasant Creek State Recreation Area, in Linn County, Iowa, is a popular site for campers as well as hunters and is a favorite destination for dog field trials.
  • Volga River State Recreation Area, in Fayette, Iowa, is a popular destination for hikers and snowmobilers.
  • Fairport State Recreation Area, in Muscatine, Iowa, offers camping and wildlife watching and is the only recreation area which does not allow hunting.
  • Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, in Dubuque, Iowa, has been selected as one of Iowa’s “Watchable Wildlife Areas” due to its populations of hawks, bald eagles, flying squirrels, bobcats, deer, and wild turkey.
  • Wilson Island, in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, offers excellent opportunities for camping, fishing, boating, and hiking, and is next door to the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.

In addition to hosting a wide variety of recreational opportunities on state land, Iowa is also home to a number of national wildlife refuges under the auspices of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service:

  • DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge, which straddles Iowa’s border with Nebraska along the banks of the Missouri river, is a prime destination for migratory waterfowl, including pelicans, geese, and a variety of duck species.
  • The Driftless Area, which straddles Iowa’s border with Wisconsin, is the site of most of the remaining habitat of the endangered Iowa Pleistocene Snail.
  • The Iowa Wetland Management District contains 75 waterfowl production areas, which produce 50 percent of the duck population in North America.
  • The Upper Mississippi River Wildlife Area, which lies partly in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as Iowa, is the winter home to a thousand bald eagles.
  • The Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect and restore the native habitat of the area, which was originally populated by sedge meadow, tall grass prairie, and oak savanna.
  • Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge, established for protection of migratory birds, lies within the Mississippi River Flyway, a major migratory path for waterfowl.
  • Union Slough National Wildlife Refuge, located in Kossuth County, Iowa, is a designated migratory waterfowl refuge.

Iowa Wildlife Officer Salary

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) employs 90 conservation officers, which include six supervisors, six recreational safety offices, and 78 field officers. Iowa’s conservation officers are fully certified peace officers.

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As of FY 2020, these professionals earn a salary of between $53,268 and $80,059.

As state employees, Iowa’s conservation officers enjoy a variety of benefits, including flexible spending accounts, Retirement Investors’ Club, life insurance, and long-term disability insurance.


Salary and employment data compiled by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services – 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.

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