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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in Maryland

Hundreds of game wardens, both state and federal, work in Maryland to protect the natural resources of the state and patrol the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.  Fish and game wardens who work for the state of Maryland are employees of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.  As certified law enforcement officers in the state’s oldest law enforcement agency, they are known as the Maryland Natural Resources Police. According to information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Baltimore-Towson area had the fourth highest level of game warden employment in the country in 2012.

People who use Maryland’s natural resources generate a large amount of revenue for the state.  Recreational boaters alone generate about $2 billion a year in Maryland.  People who watched wildlife in the state spent $636 million on equipment and expenses related to their trips in 2006.

These visitors traveled to such state wildlife management areas as Deal Island, Warrior Mountain, and Taylor’s Island.  The federal government operates four national wildlife refuges in Maryland, including the Blackwater, Eastern Neck, Martin, and Susquehanna River National Wildlife Refuges.

The Chesapeake Bay supports a commercial seafood industry that contributed over $3.3 billion in sales for Maryland in 2009 according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Oysters are an important part of this industry, and fish and game wardens go to great lengths to identify and prosecute oyster poachers who act in Maryland’s jurisdiction.  High tech efforts to identify these criminals on the Chesapeake Bay in 2014 include the following:

  • Boat and aerial surveillance using helicopters from the Maryland State Police
  • The Maritime Law Enforcement Information Network (MLEIN)
    • A system of cameras and radar units


Requirements and Training to Become a State Game Warden in Maryland

Those who apply for game warden jobs with the state of Maryland are seeking to join an agency that is recognized nationally for its leadership in the fields of boating law enforcement and conservation.

The process to become a part of the Maryland National Resources Police is highly competitive.  In the most recent round of hiring, only 13 people were chosen from 199 applicants.  The requirements, along with the hiring and training processes are described below.

Basic Requirements:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • A valid driver’s license from any state
  • 20/20 vision uncorrected
  • Being at least 20 ½ years old
  • Being in excellent physical condition
  • Not having any domestic violence court orders

Educational Requirement:

  • A high school education
    • Given the high level of competition, many applicants obtain one of the following types of associate or bachelor degrees:
      • Criminal justice
      • Wildlife Management

Hiring Process:

    • Physical fitness assessment
      • 18 push-ups in 1 minute
      • 27 sit-ups in 1 minute
      • Being able to reach about 1.5” beyond toes
      • Running 1.5 miles in 15:20 or less
      • Pulling a handgun trigger 10 times using each hand
  • Written examination
  • Polygraph examination
  • Background check
  • Medical examination
  • Psychological examination
    • Written test
    • Interview with the agency’s psychologist

Training Process:

Cadets for game warden positions in Maryland are trained in law enforcement techniques and have classroom lessons on state laws and regulations about wildlife.  Part of their training takes place in other Department of Natural Resources units such as:

  • State Parks
  • Fisheries, Wildlife, and Heritage
  • The Forest services

Requirements and Training to Become a Federal Game Warden in Maryland

Federal game wardens in Maryland work for the Office of Law Enforcement of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Office.  These certified law enforcement officers are experts in wildlife law.  Applicants to become federal game wardens must meet both the general requirements to become a federal law enforcement officer and have a high level of education.

Basic Requirements:

  • Being at least 21
  • Being younger than 37
    • Veterans and federal law enforcement officers may be exempt from this
    • Possessing a valid driver’s license
    • Having registered for Selective Service, if appropriate

Educational Requirements:

  • Four years of college in a field such as:
    • Criminal justice
    • Wildlife management

Training Processes:

    • Law enforcement training:
      • 20 weeks at the FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center)


  • Game warden training:
    • 44 weeks in the field at their first duty post


Interception of a Large Scale Oyster Poacher in Maryland

Oyster poaching has been a grave problem for Maryland since the early 1800s when schooners from New England came down the coast to ravage the oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay.  The first wildlife law enforcement officers in Maryland were the Oyster Police.  This agency was created in 1868.

The population of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay declined precipitously in the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  The state is making an effort to reintroduce oysters as the bay is being cleaned up, and this area is one of the few in the world that can support a commercial oyster harvesting industry.

Threats to this industry continue, however, as people poach oysters on a large scale. As oysters become scarce throughout the harvest season, poachers seek out oysters that are undersized.

In January 2014, state game wardens acted on a tip and seized a tractor-trailer passing through Easton that was filled with many undersized oysters.  Seventeen officers and cadets spent six hours measuring every oyster to find that 187 of the 188 bushels contained undersized oysters.

The police returned the approximately fifty bushels of undersized oysters to a sanctuary on the Eastern Shore.  The driver of the truck faces a fine of up to $1,000 for each bushel of undersized oysters.

Maryland Wildlife Officer Salary

Maryland is one of the highest paying states for fish and game wardens. The state sponsored online portal for labor market data, Maryland Workforce Exchange, reported a median Maryland game warden salary of $73,602 in 2013. The nationwide median salary reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is $48,070, so at a minimum, fish and game wardens in Maryland are earning almost 35% more than their counterparts across the country.

In Maryland, game wardens are officially referred to as Natural Resources Police Officers. Their rank begins at the cadet level and continues all the way up to superintendent, as shown here (Maryland Workforce Exchange 2013):

Natural Resources Police Officer

Minimum: $44,124
Maximum: $79,387
Natural Resources Police Officer – First Class

Minimum: $47,212
Maximum: $84,950
Natural Resources Police Corporal

Minimum: $50,564
Maximum: $90,985
Natural Resources Police Sergeant

Minimum: $54,104
Maximum: $97,358
Natural Resources Police Lieutenant

Minimum: $64,039
Maximum: $111,098
Natural Resources Police Captain

Minimum: $67,403
Maximum: $116,750
Natural Resources Police Major

Minimum: $72,122
Maximum: $124,925
Natural Resources Police Superintendent

Minimum: $82,878
Maximum: $143,036
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics provides game warden salary information for the Baltimore and Townson areas in the table below (2013):

Area name
Annual mean wage
Baltimore-Towson MD

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