How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in Michigan

Game wardens help to keep wildlife populations in proper balance by enforcing laws governing the hunting, fishing and trapping of wild animals. In Michigan, game wardens are known as conservation officers, where they serve as are part of the enforcement branch of the state Department of Natural Resources.

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There are approximately 192 conservation officers that protect Michigan’s vast natural resources. These officers are fully commissioned state police officers with the authority to not only enforce hunting and fishing laws/regulations but also to arrest anyone who breaks any of Michigan’s criminal or civil laws.

The first salaried game warden in Michigan was appointed in 1887 to ensure hunting and fishing laws were obeyed. Today’s conservation officers have much broader duties, including protecting the environment and all natural resources as well as the health and safety of the public.

Steps to Becoming a Game Warden in Michigan

Meeting the Requirements – There is a great deal of competition for conservation officer jobs in Michigan.

The basic requirements candidates must meet in order to be considered for the job:

  • High school degree or better
  • US citizen at least 21 years old
  • Resident of Michigan (by date of hire)
  • Valid Michigan driver’s license
  • Clean driving record
  • No serious criminal record
  • Able to work in extreme weather
  • Physically fit
  • Law enforcement or military experience a plus
  • Love of nature, wildlife and working outdoors
  • Basic knowledge of fishing and hunting
  • Pass Michigan civil service entry-level law enforcement exam #2002

Although only a high school degree is required at the present time, a bachelor’s degree or any college-level studies increase the chances of being hired, especially courses in a relevant field like criminal justice, natural resource science, wildlife management, ornithology, wildlife ecology or mammalogy.

Michigan is home to 36 accredited four-year colleges and universities as well as 27 two-year community colleges.  Michigan residents can also earn a degree or just take courses from several accredited online schools. Among them is a school that offers a bachelor’s degree in “Fisheries and Wildlife,” with several specializations, such as Conservation and Environmental Law.

Taking the Civil Service Exam – It is noted that the civil service exam must be taken before submitting an application for available conservation officer jobs. A record of the grade received on the exam must be attached to the application.

The exam can be taken online at the Michigan Civil Service website. Additional information and sample tests are also available.

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Participating in Training – All new hires must successfully complete a 22-week conservation officer training at the Michigan state police training facility in Lansing. The live-in academy includes both classroom and field courses covering such subjects as:

  • Criminal Law
  • Environmental Law
  • Interview/interrogation techniques
  • Waterfowl identification/enforcement
  • Fish and game identification/enforcement
  • Marine vessel operation/enforcement
  • Tactical tracking
  • Precision driving
  • Digital photography
  • Marksmanship
  • Firearms tactics/safety
  • Field trauma/first aid
  • Off-road vehicle operation
  • Snowmobiling
  • Survival strategies/methods

Following graduation from the academy new conservation officers have 18 weeks of supervised field training at various locations before being assigned to a post at one of Michigan’s 183 counties.

How to Apply for a Conservation Officer Job in Michigan

Electronic applications are available at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources careers website. A resume, cover letter, civil service exam score, and completed “Job Fit” questionnaire must be attached to the application. Incomplete applications will be rejected. Applicants whose applications are accepted must complete the following steps of the hiring process. Each step must be successfully completed before going on to the next one.

  • STEP ONE – Pre-screening interview
  • STEP TWO – Michigan law enforcement standards physical fitness test*
  • STEP THREE – Fingerprinting
  • STEP FOUR – Intensive background investigation
  • STEP FIVE – Final interview
  • STEP SIX – Medical exam including sight, hearing and drug screening
  • STEP SEVEN – Psychological evaluation
  • STEP EIGHT – Job offer contingent on completing training

*The physical fitness test for males in their 20s includes: 17.5 vertical jump, 32 continuous sit-ups, 30 push-ups and a half-mile shuttle run in under 4.27.6 minutes. Adjustments are made for females and older applicants.

The average annual salary for conservation officers in Michigan is $43,000. Beginning salaries vary depending on education and experience. Michigan state employees receive a very generous benefits package.

Duties and Responsibilities of Conservation Officers in Michigan

The work of a conservation officer is very demanding, sometimes dangerous and often has to be carried out in inclement weather. In addition to enforcing laws and regulations, these men and women are responsible for:

  • Outdoor recreational vehicles such as dine buggies, snowmobiles, ATVs, boats and mountain bikes.
  • Public education and outreach
  • Recreational safety
  • Giving court testimony
  • Writing criminal case briefs
  • Participating in cooperative patrols, operations and training exercises with federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies, federal fish & game wardens, the US Coast Guard, US Customs & Border Patrol and the US Forest Service.


Michigan’s Natural Resources

Michigan is known for its abundance of natural resources, which make tourism a significant boost to the state’s economy. Michigan’s natural resources include:

The Great Lakes – Michigan is the only U.S. state that borders four of the five great lakes, including Lakes Erie, Huron, Michigan and Superior. Besides their obvious beauty and recreational value, the Great Lakes provide drinking water, agricultural irrigation, a huge commercial fishing industry and shipping channels for the movement of goods.

Inland Lakes – Michigan holds roughly 35,000 inland lakes that provide fresh water for houses, industry and agriculture as well as recreational boating and fishing. The lakes are home to a wide variety of fish, other water creatures/and shore birds.

Rivers – There are 300 named rivers that stretch 49,000 miles across Michigan. Five of the best known are the Detroit, Grand, Kalamazoo, St. Claire and St. Mary’s rivers.

Sand Dunes – MI has 200,000 acres of freshwater sand dunes that provide a habitat for much wildlife, including numerous endangered birds and plants.

Forests – Over half of Michigan’s land is blanketed with forests, mostly in the Upper Peninsula. The forests are rich in wildlife and popular locations for campers, hunters, hikers and bicyclists.

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Michigan Wildlife Officer Salary

According to the Michigan Civil Service Commission, Michigan’s conservation officers within the Department of Natural Resources earn the following salaries:

  • Conservation Officer 10 (Recruit): $34,694-$45,510
  • Conservation Officer 10-13: $44,574-$79,040
  • Conservation Officer Specialist 13-15: $55,432-$94,515
  • Conservation Officer – Law Spy 13-16: $55,432-$101,920

To move from Level 10 to Level 11, conservation officers must have at least one year of experience. Then to move from Level 11 to Level 12, conservation officers must have at least two years of experience, and to move from Level 12 to Level 13, conservation officers must have at least four years of experience as a conservation officer.


Salary data compiled by the Michigan Civil Service Commission – 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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