Game wardens in Minnesota, called Conservation Officers, work for the enforcement division of the state Department of Natural Resources. These licensed peace officers are referred to as “The Thin Green Line.” They protect and preserve Minnesota’s abundant natural resources and outdoor recreational areas, while also protecting public safety.
The Minnesota game warden program was established in 1887 to enforce hunting, fishing and trapping laws. Since then the division has expanded dramatically over the years in terms of size, scope and areas of responsibility. The work can be dangerous but seasoned conservation officers say “It’s the best job in the world.”
Steps to Becoming a Conservation Officer in Minnesota
Meeting the Requirements:
There is a great deal of competition for conservation officer jobs, which is considered one of the most desirable law enforcement positions in Minnesota.
The basic requirements are:
- Citizen of the United States
- High school diploma
- Valid MN driver’s license
- Clean driving record (no DUI in past five years)
- Skill in performing peace officer duties
- Good reading comprehension
- Knowledge of fish and wildlife identifications and habitats
- Able to work in adverse weather/extreme cold
- Ability to observe and record details
- Good oral/written comprehension
- No felony convictions
- No natural resource violations
- Possess or be eligible for a MN peace officer’s license
Although only a high school diploma is required at present, a college degree can increase an applicant’s chances of being hired. Minnesota has 33 accredited four-year colleges/universities and 34 two-year community colleges that offer bachelors and associates degree in a relevant field like criminal justice, law enforcement, natural resource management or zoology.
Obtaining a Minnesota Peace Officer’s License:
The Minnesota Board of Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) is responsible for granting peace officer licenses. A person can become eligible by completing a two or four-year degree from a certified POST education program and passing the Minnesota peace officer’s licensing exam. A license is not granted until an eligible individual is hired by a law enforcement agency.
A peace officer can also be licensed in Minnesota if they have been POST certified in another state with which Minnesota has a reciprocal agreement. Information about POST program locations in Minnesota can be found at the POST website.
Participating in Training:
Newly hired conservation officers must successfully complete approximately six months of training before being assigned to a post. The initial training includes 12 weeks of classroom studies and field work at Camp Ripley, the Department of Natural Resources’ 53,000-acre Enforcement Education Training Center near Little Falls, MN. The training covers such matters as:
- Firearms safety
- Minnesota hunting and fishing laws
- Environmental law
- Defensive tactics
- Emergency vehicle operations
- Physical fitness
- Boat training/exiting a submerged vehicle
After completing the initial training, new conservation officers spend approximately three months working in the field alongside a seasoned officer before being assigned to their own territory. All officers receive 50 hours of continuing education a year in order to improve old skills, learn new ones and maintain their peace officer’s license.
Duties and Responsibilities of Conservation Officers in Minnesota
Minnesota conservation officers are responsible for the state’s lakes, rivers and backcountry. Officers work out of their homes and each patrols roughly 650 square miles using a 4X4 patrol vehicle, snowmobile, ATV or one of various watercrafts. The job requires working irregular hours, including nights and weekends. Duties include:
- Enforce statues/regulation related to the environment and outdoor recreation
- Ensure compliance with state and federal natural resource and recreational vehicle commercial laws and operations
- Develop and implement methods to detect violations
- Identity needs
- Investigate complaints
- Process criminal violations/arrest violators
- Seize and preserve evidence
- Conduct audits of natural resource licensed commercial operations
- Support hunter and recreational vehicle safety training
- Recruit volunteer instructors for safety classes
- Organize/conduct firearms safety programs for youth
- Communicate MN Department of Natural Resource (DNR) goals to the public through both personal contact and speaking engagements
- Assist injured or “nuisance” animals
- Work with other DNR units, federal game wardens and other law enforcement agencies
- Prepare and submit regular reports
There are several specialized conservation officer career positions including:
- Aircraft pilot
- Commercial liaison officer
- Special investigator
- K9 officer
- Wetlands enforcer
- Training officer
How to Apply for a Conservation Officer Job in Minnesota
Only electronic applications are accepted and should be accompanied by a resume and proof of a Minnesota peace officer’s license or eligibility for a license. Application forms are found at the State of Minnesota Job Website (keyword Conservation Officer; posting number 131743000001).
It is important to meet all of the requirements described above before submitting an application. Persons whose applications are accepted must complete the following steps in the hiring process. Each step needs to be passed before moving on:
- Step 1: Written exam (knowledge of fish/wildlife, etc.)
- Step 2: Division interview
- Step 3: Background investigation
- Step 4: Functional capacity exam
- Step 5: Psychological assessment
- Step 6: Medical examination
Men and women who pass all of the steps will be scheduled for training. Conservation officers earn an annual salary of $47,335 to $62,389 plus overtime pay. The benefits package includes life, medical, dental and workman’s compensation insurance, savings and retirement plans, paid holidays, vacations and sick-leave. Since conservation officers work out of their own homes, additional benefits include:
- Take-home 4X4 patrol vehicle
- Laptop computer
- Internet service
- Reimbursement of phone bill
- Body armor
- Safety equipment
Natural Resources in Minnesota
Minnesota is known for its great abundance of natural resources and the availability of a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities including boating, fishing, hinting, hiking, bicycling, mountain biking, bird watching, skiing, snowboarding, sledding, tobogganing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. The wonderland of Minnesota areas for the enjoyment of boaters, anglers and other mature lovers includes:
- Lakes – Minnesota license plates read “Land of 10,000 lakes” but there are actually 11,842 natural lakes within or bordering the state. Only four of Minnesota’s 87 counties do not hold a natural lake. The five largest are Lake Superior, Red Lake, Mille Lacs, Leech Lake and Winnebigoshish Lake.
- Rivers – The more than 8,100 fishable rivers in Minnesota provide more shore line than is present in California, Florida and Hawaii combined! The five largest rivers are the Mississippi (681 miles of it borders Minnesota), and the Red, Minnesota, Rainy and Red rivers.
- National Parks – Minnesota is home to Voyageurs National Park as well as Grand Portage and Pipestone National Monuments; Mississippi River National Recreation Area; Saint Croix National Scenic Riverway and North County National Scenic Trail. It is noted that federal game wardens are responsible for protecting and enforcing laws in national recreation areas.
Minnesota Wildlife Officer Salary
According to data released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in 2013, the average Minnesota wildlife officer salary was $41,683. Those earning in the top ten percent statewide averaged roughly 38% more, at $67,412.
Salary data compiled by Minnesota Management & Budget in 2013 provides a much more detailed look at exactly how wildlife officers in Minnesota are paid:
NR Specialist 2 Conservation Officer
NR Specialist 3 Conservation Officer (Includes Community Liaison, Pilot, Water Specialist, Training Officer)
NR Specialist 3 Conservation Officer Special Investigator
NR Specialist 4 Conservation Officer Pilot
NR Specialist/Conservation Officer Unit Leader