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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in New Mexico

The most recent US Department of Labor report released in 2017 showed that just 80 total conservation officers are responsible for securing New Mexico’s vast wildlife areas and natural resources. On average each one of them is responsible for 1,521 square miles of territory. That’s a lot of ground to cover.

State game wardens employed with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish are commissioned as certified peace officers and have a great deal of expertise in wildlife and fish management and the investigation of wildlife crimes. As law enforcement officials, they are primarily responsible for enforcing the following suite of state laws:

  • Game, Fish, and Outdoor Recreation (Chapter 17)
  • Off-highway vehicle and related ones (Chapter 66)
  • Criminal trespass
  • Negligent use of a firearm
  • Littering

Examples of some of the cases handled in 2019 are representative of what the state’s game wardens contend with every day:

  • Monitoring cases of rabies that have been popping up in foxes in San Miguel County since January 2019
  • Securing evidence for February 2019 charges that were filed in an illegal trapping case out of Chimayo against a man found to be in possession of over a dozen pelts, including those from bobcats, foxes, and a badger
  • Investigating a bear mauling against a man walking his dogs southeast of Raton in July 2018
  • Securing evidence that led to the conviction and August 2018 sentencing of two men for the illegal killing multiple mule deer

Joining the Law Enforcement Division of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish

The requirements to become a game warden for the state of New Mexico and the federal government differ quite a bit and are shown below.

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish sets high standards for those who seek jobs as state fish and game wardens.  Those pursuing game warden jobs can apply at the website of the state’s Personnel Office.  Positions are posted online for approximately three weeks, and applicants must apply during this time frame.

Basic Requirements:

  • Not having any of the following convictions:
    • Felony
    • Domestic violence
    • DWI
      • Multiple
      • Within the past three years
  • Being current on payments for child support
  • Being eligible to maintain and keep a New Mexico driver’s license

Educational Requirement:

  • A bachelor’s degree in one of the following fields
    • Agricultural science
    • Animal science
    • Biology
    • Criminal justice
    • Ecology
    • Environmental science
    • Fisheries science or management
    • Forestry
    • Forestry management
    • Natural resource science or management
    • Range science or management
    • Wildlife law enforcement
    • Wildlife science or management
    • Zoology

Hiring Process:

  • Initial steps:
    • A physical test
      • Applicants must meet the physical standards for entering the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy
  • A background questionnaire
  • Interview by a committee that examines job related areas:
    • General knowledge
    • Ability
    • Skills
  • Background check

Training:

  • Law enforcement:
    • Law Enforcement Academy in Santa Fe for 21 weeks
  • Department of Game and Fish
    • Rookie School Training for 4 weeks
    • Firearms training for 2 weeks
    • Field training with a Training Officer for 1 year

New Mexico Game Wardens Working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The requirements to become a federal game warden include meeting the basic standards for becoming a federal law enforcement officer.

Basic Requirements:

  • Being 21 to 36 years old
  • Having a valid driver’s license
  • Being a U.S. citizen
  • Being registered with the selective service

Educational Requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree in one of the following or a related field:
    • Wildlife management
    • Criminal justice

Training Requirements:

  • Law enforcement:
    • FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center) for 20 weeks
  • On duty training:
    • Field Training and Evaluation Program at the first post for 44 weeks

New Mexico’s Pioneering Toll Free Hotline for Wildlife Crime

After research into the seriousness of poaching in New Mexico, the state started offering a toll-free hotline for citizens to report poaching and other crimes involving wildlife.  The New Department of Game and Fish pioneered its crime-stoppers program for wildlife crime based on the crime-stoppers program of the Albuquerque Police Department.  Operation Game Thief started in 1977 and became a model for similar programs throughout the country.

The toll-free number is available round the clock.  All calls are confidential, and tipsters have the option of remaining anonymous.  Although many people do not accept a reward, one is offered if a poacher is issued a citation or arrested based on information from the call.  The Game and Fish department offers rewards in the following amounts:

  • $750 – elk and bighorn sheep
  • $500 – deer and onyx
  • $350 – antelope
  • $250 – other species

Officials were able to solve the following cases from early 2014 based on calls to this hotline:

  • A turkey:  unlawful hunting and possession
  • Spike deer and turkey:  illegal killing in a Game Management Unit


New Mexico Wildlife Officer Salary

As of 2017, the US Department of Labor showed New Mexico game wardens earning $43,690. Those in the 90thpercentile earned $50,580.

The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions projects that between 2016 and 2026 the number of Conservation Officer jobs in the state will increase by 14.3 percent.

Game and Fish Wardens have three different salary classifications, in addition to a supervisor level (New Mexico State Personnel Office; fiscal year 2019):

 

Game & Fish Warden – B

Minimum: $26,764

Midpoint: $36,663

Maximum: $46,562

 

Game & Fish Warden – O

Minimum: $29,347

Midpoint: $40,201

Maximum: $51,056

 

Game & Fish Warden – A

Minimum: $32,427

Midpoint: $44,420

Maximum: $56,413

 

Game & Fish Warden Supervisor

Minimum: $36,097

Midpoint: $49,449

Maximum: $62,800

 

Conservation Officers enjoy a 25 year retirement plan plus a benefits package that includes:

  • Paid vacation
  • Sick leave
  • Health insurance that includes vision and dental
  • Long-term care insurance options

 

Salary data sourced from the New Mexico State Personnel Office (http://www.spo.state.nm.us/), the New Mexico Department of Fish and Game (http://www.wildlife.state.nm.us/download/enforcement/career/Conservation-Officer-Brochure-2014.pdf), and the US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (https://www.bls.gov/oes/2017/may/oes333031.htm)

Job growth projections sourced from the New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions – https://laser.state.nm.us/.

Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment andfor workers at all levels of education and experience. It does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.

All salary and job growth information accessed in August 2019.

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