Kentucky’s expansive natural resources are protected and preserved by game wardens, officially known as “conservation officers.” Conservation officers are the law enforcement arm of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. A conservation officer will spend the majority of his or her time outdoors, in a wide range of weather conditions, both clement and inclement. Otherwise, the work of conservation officers is, in many ways, consistent with that of other law enforcement officers.
The job of conservation officer is a physically demanding one. And, because they may be called upon to use deadly force to defend the public or prevent criminal activity in parks and wildlife areas, conservation officers carry guns and are trained in various defensive tactics.
Job duties of Kentucky’s conservation officers include:
- Patrolling Kentucky’s lakes and rivers, fields and forests.
- Enforcing state and federal wildlife rules and regulations, as well as boating regulations and any relevant state criminal laws.
- Investigating reports of violations of wildlife and boating laws.
- Reviewing reports of wildlife damage and participating in habitat improvement and maintenance.
- Issuing citations to violators of wildlife and boating and making arrests where necessary.
- Investigating boating accidents and drownings, and performing water rescues.
- Serving as a witness at trials and hearings when appropriate.
- Prepare educational programs for adults and youth in order to inform the public about the fish and wildlife and boating laws of Kentucky.
The goals of Kentucky’s conservation officers, as agents of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, include protecting and improving fish and wildlife populations and their habitats and enhancing opportunities for safe enjoyment of outdoor activities, including hunting, trapping, fishing, and boating.
Steps to Become a Game Warden with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources
Prerequisites and Degree Requirements:
In order to apply for a position as Kentucky conservation officer, a candidate must meet the following threshold requirements:
- Be 21 years of age or older
- Have a valid driver’s license
- An associate’s degree or the completion of 54 credit hours at a college or university
In some cases, pertinent experience can substitute for education. For each year of higher education required, an applicant may be able to substitute military service or active law enforcement work on a year for year basis. Applicants may also substitute two years’ experience working in a field related to natural resources or wildlife for one year of required education.
Candidates seeking to become Kentucky conservation officers must submit an application online in response to a posted job opening. Qualified applicants will submit to the following steps in the application process:
- Take a written test on which they must earn at least an 80 to proceed further with the application process
- Undergo a fitness test
- Take a Law Enforcement swim test
- Authorize a background investigation
- Appear before and interview board
- Pass a polygraph examination and drug screening test
- Submit to a medical exam and psychological testing
Applicants who make it through these steps in the application process may be chosen to become conservation officer recruits.
Training at the Fish and Wildlife Academy:
Kentucky conservation officer recruits undergo vigorous and extensive training. Because they will serve as law enforcement officers, they must learn basic law enforcement techniques. To that end, conservation officer recruits spend eighteen weeks at the Kentucky Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) receiving instruction in firearms, defensive tactics, and basic police officer protocol.
Recruits then go on to twelve weeks of training at the Fish and Wildlife Academy. This second course of training reinforces the firearms and defensive tactics instruction of the DOCJT but also introduces the recruits to topics specific to the work of conservation officers, including wildlife forensics, fish and reptile navigation, identification, waterfowl training, water survival and emergency vessel operations, boat accident investigation, ATV patrols, land navigation, and media relations.
Recruits who complete both training courses successfully become cadets. Cadets undergo sixteen weeks on the job training in the field under the supervision of two field-training officers.
Becoming a Federal Game Warden in Kentucky
Becoming a special agent with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is another option for individuals wishing to become game wardens in Kentucky. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agents in Kentucky enforce and investigate violations of federal wildlife laws within Kentucky territory. The application process to become a federal game warden in very competitive and candidates must meet several requirements:
- Be at least 21 years old but no older than 37 years old
- Have a four-year college degree, preferably in a field relating to wildlife management or criminal justice
- Have no felony convictions
- Pass a background check
- Pass drug screening tests
- Undergo a series of tests of physical fitness and psychological suitability for a law enforcement position.
Applicants selected for federal game warden positions are sent to a special federal law enforcement training center to take a twenty-week long training course. As federal law enforcement agents, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Special Agents must carry weapons and so new special agents undergo firearms training. They also learn about wildlife law enforcement and criminal investigation techniques.
- Grand Canyon University - B.S. in Justice Studies and M.S. in Criminal Justice
- SNHU - Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Rasmussen College - Law Enforcement Associate's Degree and Post-Degree Certificates; Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Utica College - Online Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice
- Penn Foster - Online Wildlife and Forestry Conservation Career Diploma
Protecting Kentucky’s Natural Resources on State and Federal Lands
Kentucky’s conservation officer jobs involve enforcing fish and wildlife regulations and boating regulations in state parks and in designated state wildlife management areas. Their presence is particularly important in wildlife areas, where activities such as hunting, fishing, and trapping are allowed.
There are over eighty wildlife management areas in Kentucky, all of which are owned, leased, or managed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Some areas require user permits for hunters, while others are free and open to hunting with not permit or license required. These wildlife management areas include:
- Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Center, in Brandenburg, Kentucky close to the Indiana border. Otter Creek offers abundant fishing as well as deer, squirrel, rabbit, and turkey hunting.
- Ballard Wildlife Management Area, near Paducah, Kentucky. Ballard is one of several management areas included in the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ deer restoration project. As such, hunting is limited in this area and requires an advance application.
- Lake Cumberland Wildlife Management Area, a vast expanse of plant and animal life covering more than 52,000 acres. The area’s fishing creek draws boaters and fisherman from across Kentucky.
Kentucky is also home to the Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed and protected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Clarks River encompasses one of the largest bottomland hardwood forests remaining in Kentucky and the surrounding area. For wildlife watchers, the refuge offers the opportunity to observe freshwater mussels; song birds such as the Indigo Bunting, the Kentucky Warbler, and the endangered Cerulean Warbler; and a variety of mammals including bobcats, northern river otters, and white-tailed deer.
Kentucky Wildlife Officer Salary
Conservation officers of the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources begin their careers as recruits, earning a minimum salary of $31,176 to $49,704.
Conservation officer recruits who are Peace Officer Professional Standard (POPS) certified upon hiring and maintain POPS certification will receive a monthly training stipend totaling $4,000 annually. Non-certified recruits will receive the same stipend once they complete the POPS certification requirements and graduate from the Department of Criminal Justice Training Academy.
From there, the rank/salary structure for Kentucky’s conservation officers is as follows:
- Conservation Officer I: $34,176-$54,684
- Conservation Officer II: $37,596-$60,144
- Conservation Master Officer: $41,352-$66,168
- Conservation Officer Lieutenant: $45,480-$72,780
- Conservation Officer Captain: $50,028-$80,052
- Conservation Officer Major: $55,032-$88,056
Salary and employment data compiled by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and Kentucky Personnel – https://fw.ky.gov/Enforcement/Pages/Career-in-Law-Enforcement.aspx and https://personnel.ky.gov/Pages/default.aspx. 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.