Conservation Officer Requirements

Fish and game wardens are fully commissioned and certified peace officers responsible for the enforcement of state and federal laws and regulations related to the protection and conservation of wildlife. Although this certainly includes laws related to hunting, fishing, trapping and poaching, game wardens—also frequently referred to as conservation officers—often enforce laws related to boating, land and equipment use, pollution, wildlife trade and smuggling, and the use of natural resources.

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Fish and game wardens execute and serve all criminal processes related to enforcement activities, and their work requires them to safeguard department land and equipment and provide the general public and landowners with written and presented information. Further, game wardens, whether at the federal or state level, also often combine efforts with other law enforcement agencies.

Because game wardens serve in a law enforcement capacity and have full law enforcement powers to enforce laws and arrest violators, requirements and qualifications for becoming a game warden are distinct and well-defined. Although qualifications to become a conservation officer vary slightly among different state wildlife departments and the federal government through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are a number of consistencies found throughout:

Minimum Requirements for Game Warden Jobs

Individuals seeking game warden jobs must be United States citizens, and they must possess a high school diploma or the equivalent. Most state wildlife departments require applicants to be at least 21, although a number of states accept candidates under the age of 21, such as California, which accepts candidates who are at least 18 years old, and Montana, which accepts candidates who are at least 20 years old.

Individuals applying for federal game warden jobs through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must be at least 21 years old but no older than 36 at the time of appointment.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and all state wildlife departments demand a valid driver’s license and all require applicants who are in good health and have good, moral character.

Good health means being in excellent physical and mental health. As such, individuals must be able to pass a medical examination, a psychological assessment, and often a strength and agility assessment. Further, candidates for conservation officer jobs must meet specific vision and hearing requirements, including peripheral vision requirements, night vision requirements, and color distinguishing requirements.

Each department’s physical fitness assessment differs; however, individuals must usually meet minimum requirements by performing sit-ups and push-ups and completing a timed run. Other assessments for fish and game warden jobs often include handgun stability tests and swimming tests.

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Disqualifiers for Game Warden Jobs

Indications of a lack of good moral character include any conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation; and any acts or conduct that reflect a lack of honesty, fairness, respect for others, or respect for state and federal laws.

Individuals may not qualify for conservation officer jobs if they have:

  • A state or federal felony conviction
  • A misdemeanor conviction related to sex crimes, domestic violence, and fraud
  • Other misdemeanor convictions within the last 5 years (or less)
  • Major traffic offenses or DUI within the last 5 years (or less)
  • Convictions of Class A traffic violations within the last 5 years (or less)
  • Possessed, sold, distributed, manufactured, or used an illegal drug within the past 10 years (or less)
  • A suspended or expired driver’s license


Education and Experience Requirements for Fish and Game Warden Jobs

In most cases, individuals applying for fish and game warden jobs need no previous experience. However, the majority of states require, at a minimum, an associate’s degree (60 semester units) in a program related to this field. Acceptable programs of study often include:

  • Zoology
  • Wildlife management
  • Wilderness survival
  • Water quality management
  • Psychology
  • Police science
  • Plan taxonomy
  • Physics
  • Ornithology
  • Oceanography
  • Natural resources conservation
  • Natural resources
  • Marine biology
  • Mammalogy
  • Life science
  • Law enforcement
  • Herpetology
  • Geology
  • Geography
  • Forestry
  • Fisheries management
  • Environmental studies
  • Environmental science
  • Ecology
  • Chemistry
  • Botany
  • Biological sciences
  • Animal science

Many states, like Texas and Montana, require, at a minimum, a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, with prior military or law enforcement experience not acceptable as a substitute for education.

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Some states, including Washington State, require the completion of a bachelor’s degree in a natural resources science, criminal justice, or a closely related field. Individuals without a four-year degree, however, may qualify if they possess a two-year college degree, along with another two years of experience in a fully commissioned law enforcement capacity.

Only a few states, like Vermont, accept experience in lieu of education. Candidates for game warden jobs in this state may qualify by either possessing at least 60 college credit hours or by possessing at least two years of experience as a certified law enforcement officer, in a military capacity, or in a natural resources field.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prefers candidates who possess a four-year degree in wildlife management, criminal justice, or a related field.

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