Whether they’re called conservation officers, wildlife conservation officers, wildlife troopers, game conservation officers, or simply fish and game wardens, their goal is similar: to patrol lands in an effort to enforce local, state, and federal laws that protect fish, wildlife, and the habitats in which they live. Many times, the job of these peace officers also extends into education and conservation.
While the job description for conservation officers may be somewhat similar, their salaries tend to be quite diverse. This is because a variety of factors influence their earning potential, including the agency and geographic region in which they work, experience and education level, overtime pay, and other salary incentives.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for fish and game wardens, as of May 2018, was $57,710, with the top 10% earning an average salary of $80,140. The number of these professionals is projected to increase by 4.3% between 2016 and 2026, rising from 7,000 in 2016 to 7,300 in 2026.
Game Warden Salary Information by State
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Salaries for Game Wardens, by Agency, Education, Experience, and More
As peace officers, conservation officers are employed through local, state, and federal governmental agencies.
Work for the federal government as a fish and game warden and you’ll be employed through the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. To qualify for a position as a federal wildlife officer, you must be between the ages of 21 and 37 and have at least one year of experience in law enforcement and/or natural resources or a bachelor’s degree in natural resource management, park and recreation science, criminal justice, natural sciences, or a similar field. You’ll also be required to complete extensive training that includes 17 weeks of law enforcement training, advanced wildlife officer training, and an additional 10 weeks of field training.
These professionals are hired at the GL-05 federal pay scale, which is $33,829 and have the ability to be promoted to GL-09, which is $61,031. Additional opportunities to earn even higher salaries exist here, too, with promotions to senior officer, zone officer, regional chief of law enforcement, branch chief, and division chief available, as well as promotions to specialized positions like canine officer, pilot, driver, training officer, and more.
Of the approximately 7,000 wildlife officers working in the U.S., most—5,260—work for state-level agencies. The average salary for these professionals, according to the BLS, is $60,620 ($29.14/hr.). While most state agencies have set salary schedules, additional salary incentives are commonplace.
For example, the Texas Parks & Wildlife, which requires candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree and be at least 21 years old, features a salary scale of $40,344 – $77,844 based on years of experience.
However, additional monthly stipends of $50-$150 are awarded to game wardens based on additional education, certifications, and/or second languages. Promotional opportunities to investigative sergeant, lieutenant, captain, assistant commander, major, chief, lieutenant colonel, and colonel are also available.
Similarly, fish and wildlife wardens working for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife earn between $42,840 and $75,468. However, a number of stipends exist, including a monthly stipend of $220-$350 (depending on the employee’s classification) for those working in ‘high-cost counties’ and additional longevity pay of between 2%-8% for those wardens with 17 to 25+ years of service. And while a post-secondary education isn’t required, hold an associate’s degree and you’ll earn a monthly stipend of $50. Hold a bachelor’s degree and this stipend will increase to $100 monthly.
The smallest number of wildlife officers—just 780, according to the BLS—work for local or tribal agencies, earning an average salary of $50,120 ($24.09/hr.).
Where Game Wardens are Earning the Most: Salaries According to Geographic Region
The biggest difference in game warden salaries can be seen when comparing average salaries by state. The following states have the highest, average salaries for game wardens:
- Illinois: $88,300
- Iowa: $82,520
- Rhode Island: $77,710
- California: $76,240
- Washington: $74,010
Wildlife officers in these states earned anywhere between $14,000 and $28,000 more than the national average.
The following metropolitan areas are home to the highest, average salaries for conservation officers:
- Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA: $78,390
- San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $75,820
- Providence-Warwick, RI-MA: $73,350
- Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX: $69,410
- New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA: $65,840
- Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA: $63,940
- Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD: $57,570
It comes as no surprise that some of the top game warden average salaries were found in metropolitan areas in California, Rhode Island, Texas, and New York, although the metro areas of Atlanta and Philadelphia also landed a top spot among the nation’s top earners.
The states with the highest number of wildlife officers include Texas, at 460, followed closely by New York, at 400, North Carolina, at 370, and California, at 350. While the only state to come out on top for its number of game wardens, as well as its salary for game wardens, was California, both Texas and New York game wardens earned more than the national average, at $66,130 and $68,000, respectively.
The highest average salaries for conservation officers are found in the following nonmetropolitan areas:
- Capital/Northern New York: $70,300
- Hill Country Region of Texas: $69,410
- North Texas Region of Texas: $68,660
- North Coast Region of California: $66,430
- Coastal Plains Region of Texas: $63,470
The following BLS table provides a further breakdown of salaries for game wardens, according to state:
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2018. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment for fish and game wardens https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333031.htm. BLS salary data represents state average and median earnings 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.