Game wardens in both Virginia and West Virginia recently teamed up to conduct an undercover operation resulting in the arrest of six people on charges related to game law violations. Known in Virginia as conservation police officers, game wardens made several undercover buys from the suspects who were operating an illegal processing and distribution ring for poached deer meat.
Undercover ops are just one of the methods game wardens use to combat poaching. Employed with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, game wardens also play an important role in public education and safety in addition to stopping poachers.
Candidates who are interested in learning more about how to become a game warden in Virginia can consult the following guide.
Game Warden Jobs with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
Minimum Qualifications – Before filling out an application for conservation police officers, candidates should ensure they meet a few initial eligibility requirements:
- A high school diploma or GED
- Are at least 21 years old
- Have a good driving record and the ability to obtain a Virginia driver’s license
- Are in good, healthy physical condition
- Are willing to take the life of a person in defense of oneself or another
- Are willing to investigate fatal cases of drowning and hunting accidents
- Have no felony convictions
Coming from a strong educational background will demonstrate a prospective conservation police officer’s knowledge of wildlife management. Exceeding the minimum game warden requirements of a high school diploma or GED is recommended for candidates who would like to distinguish themselves on their application.
Having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in any of the following subjects is something the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries strongly prefers:
- Criminal Justice
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Wildlife Management
- Law Enforcement
- Land Management
Applicants for federal game warden positions, which will be explained shortly, are also shown preference if they have a bachelor’s degree in a field related to Criminal Justice or Wildlife Management.
- Grand Canyon University - B.S. in Justice Studies and M.S. in Criminal Justice
- SNHU - Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Strayer University - Bachelors of Science Degree in Criminal Justice
- Rasmussen College - Law Enforcement Associate's Degree and Post-Degree Certificates; Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees
- Michigan State University - Online Master of Science in Law Enforcement Intelligence and Analysis
- Saint Joseph's University - Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice
- Utica College - Online Bachelor's of Science in Criminal Justice
- Penn Foster - Online Wildlife and Forestry Conservation Career Diploma
Applying – Prospective game wardens are advised to email or call a Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Recruiter at (804) 367-3443. Vacant game warden positions are posted on the Virginia Jobs website. Application instructions are provided through job announcements, which will include submitting an online application along with a resume and cover letter.
Candidates who are selected for further scrutiny in the hiring process will undergo:
- Medical, hearing, and vision evaluation
- Psychological assessment
- Polygraph examination
- Background investigation, including of:
- Criminal, work, military (if applicable) and education history
Training – Game warden training in Virginia takes place over two phases: a 29-week Basic Law Enforcement Academy, followed by a 15-week field-training program. The basic academy covers the essentials of law enforcement, and is conducted alongside other law enforcement officers from different agencies across the state. Field training takes place with an experienced training officer who will provide instruction to new recruits on the essentials of being a conservation police officer. These programs include education about:
- Virginia State and federal laws
- Emergency first aid
- Wildlife crime scene processing
- Suspect arrest and detention
- Driving maneuvers
- Self defense
Game Warden Jobs with the Federal US Fish and Wildlife Service
Just as federal law enforcement agents have overlapping jurisdiction with state and local law enforcement, so too do federal game wardens. These federal officers function in much the same way as their counterparts at the state-level with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. However there are some key differences between federal and state game wardens operating in the state:
- Federal game wardens are employed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service Office
- Federal game wardens are preferred to have a bachelor degree related to Wildlife Management or Criminal Justice
- Federal game wardens must be between the ages of 21-36
- Applying to become a fish and game warden at the federal level involves submitting an application for Service Special Agents through the USA Jobs website
- Training for federal game wardens also takes place in two phases: 20 weeks of basic law enforcement training in Georgia followed by 46 weeks of field training
Fish and Game Wardens at Work in Virginia
Perhaps the most frequent criminals that Virginia’s game wardens deal with are those who illegally hunt deer. Less common but just as serious are other cases of poaching involving marine animals. Virginia’s long coastline provides as much opportunity for those illegally harvesting marine life as its two national forests do for big game poachers.
A Virginia truck driver working for a Virginia-based seafood company was recently pulled over by game wardens thanks to a tip from the public that he was illegally harvesting oysters. In addition to finding the daily limit of 16 oyster gatherers in his truck, game wardens spent six hours measuring the 188 bushels and found all but one to contain undersized oysters. The driver of the truck was arrested and faces a $1,000 fine for each illegal bushel.
Whether through public tips or undercover operations, Virginia conservation police offers are often the only thing standing between those wanting to bring malicious harm to the state’s natural resources and members of the law-abiding public who play by the rules.
Virginia Wildlife Officer Salary
The conservation officers of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries earn the following salaries, based on their rank:
(Note: The Code of Virginia defines conservation officers as law enforcement officers.)
- Law enforcement officer I: $25,718-$66,683, average salary $43,309
- Law enforcement officer II: $33,598-$83,649, average salary $49,483
- Law enforcement officer III: $43,892-$105,811, average salary $66,823
- Law enforcement manager I: $43,892-$115,811, average salary $71,853
- Law enforcement manager II: $57,342-$134,764, average salary $88,659
- Law enforcement manager III: $74,913-$172,594, average salary $128,582
Newly hired recruits attend the 26-week Basic Law Enforcement Academy to become sworn law enforcement officers. Then, they must complete a 15-week field training program under the direction of a field training officer.
Today’s conservation officers in Virginia were called game wardens until 2007.
Salary and employment data compiled by the Virginia Department of Human Resource Management – http://www.dhrm.virginia.gov/docs/default-source/compensationdocuments/classified-compensation-plan-for-sw-pay-area-as-of-07-31-2018.pdf?sfvrsn=2. Figures represent accumulated data for all areas of employment for 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.