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How to Become a Fish and Game Warden in Pennsylvania

Criminals who poach the natural resources of Pennsylvania are stealing from every resident of the state. Often times Pennsylvania’s game wardens are the only thing that stops criminals who kill for fun or illegally harvest meat. One recently retired state game warden set his experiences to words in a new book about his career, which spanned 32 years across 400 square miles of rugged Pennsylvania terrain.

Investigating thousands of game law violations, often being outgunned, and dealing with convicted criminals is not for everyone. Prospective game wardens should be aware of what they are getting themselves into. These themes are explored throughout the book, in which this Pennsylvania game warden details his encounters with poachers with prior felony convictions for crimes like murder, drug trafficking, and motorcycle gang racketeering.

Joining the Pennsylvania Game Commission

Becoming a Qualified Candidate – Besides meeting the basic qualifications, it is a good idea for prospective game wardens to distinguish themselves as candidates in the application process. The agency responsible for game wardens, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, recommends the following courses of study for a bachelor’s degree:

  • Wildlife Management
  • Environmental Science
  • Police Science
  • Law Enforcement
  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Criminal Justice

Federal positions, to be discussed later, also prefer applicants with a bachelor degree in relevant areas.

All applicants must also meet certain basic game warden requirements in Pennsylvania for eligibility:

  • Pennsylvania residency
  • GED or high school graduate at least 21 years old
  • Have a driver’s license and a hunting license for at least two years
  • Be willing to work all shifts, live away from home for 50 weeks during training, and be willing to relocate within the state after becoming a full-fledged Wildlife Conservation Officer

The Hiring Process – Wildlife Conservation Officers are the field agents of the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Although this is the agency responsible for game wardens, game warden applications are submitted through the Pennsylvania Office of Administration’s Human Resources Department. Prospective applicants can get the application process started by taking a basic civil service examination that evaluates fundamental skills.

After successful completion of the initial civil service exam and application, selected candidates will move on to complete the rest of the hiring process with the Game Commission. This will include:

    • Physical fitness and agility test, which requires these minimum abilities:
      • 30 sit-ups in one minute
      • 30 push-ups in one minute
      • 1.5-mile run in 15.5 minutes
      • Agility run in 19 seconds
      • Trunk flex or sit-and-reach to 16 inches
      • 15.5-inch vertical jump

 

    • Medical examination
      • Visual and hearing tests
      • Drug screening
      • Complete physical
      • Blood pressure

 

  • Psychological testing

Game Commission Training School – Game warden training in Pennsylvania takes place at the Ross Leffler School of Conservation in Harrisburg. This is a weekday live-in training academy where new cadets will learn the essentials of what it takes to become a game warden over the course of 50 weeks and 1,400 hours of instruction. Pay is $1,161.60 every two weeks, and instruction covers:

  • Unarmed self-defense and firearms training
  • Law enforcement principles and methods
  • Wildlife management
  • Agency administration procedures
  • Land management
  • Wildlife regulations and laws
  • Conservation education
  • Public relations

Becoming a Federal Game Warden in Pennsylvania

Game wardens at the federal level also operate in Pennsylvania at the request of other law enforcement agencies, in federally-managed territories, or to enforce federal laws.

Federal fish and game warden applications are submitted through the USA jobs website for positions titled Service Special Agent with the US Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. Applicants must meet requirements that include:

  • Being a US citizen aged 21-36
  • Passing a drug screening
  • Passing a firearms proficiency test annually
  • Medical and psychological review

Federal game wardens are also recommended to have a four-year bachelor degree in an area related to Wildlife Management or Criminal Justice.

The training process for federal game wardens also differs from their counterparts at the state level, and includes 64 weeks divided into:

  • 20 weeks of training in wildlife law enforcement and criminal justice at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia
  • 44 weeks of hands-on field training with an experienced officer


Pennsylvania Wildlife Officer Salary

Wildlife conservation officers of the Pennsylvania Game Commission earn salaries that reflect their years of service/longevity.

Cadets are paid an initial salary of $31,584 during their 50-week training program. Upon completion, cadets are promoted to the position of wildlife conservation officer, which comes with an annual salary of $40,560.

The pay schedule for these wildlife professionals is as follows:

  • $40,560 to $47,361 (0-8 years of service)
  • $48,363 (8-9 years of service)
  • $49,489 (9-10 years of service)
  • $50,574 (10-11 years of service)
  • $51,764 (11-12 years of service)
  • $52,849 (12-13 years of service)
  • $54,059 (13-14 years of service)
  • $55,248 (14-15 years of service)
  • $56,521 (15-16 years of service)
  • $57,752 (16-17 years of service)
  • $59,068 (17-18 years of service)
  • $60,339 (18-19 years of service)
  • $61,632 (19-20 years of service)
  • $63,114 (20-21 years of service)
  • $64,491 (21+ years of service)

 

Salary and employment data compiled by the Pennsylvania Office of Administration – https://www.hrm.oa.pa.gov/class-comp/Documents/paysched-game-act-111-go-2015.pdf. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment for wildlife 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 August 2019.

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