The abundance of Washington’s wildlife provides no shortage of targets for poachers. However, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has the authority and technology to take down everything from the biggest poaching schemes to backwoods spotlighters. Washington State game wardens work tirelessly to protect both law-abiding residents and the state’s natural resources from harm.
In addition to outdoor safety courses and public education campaigns, Washington’s game wardens also have recently been charged with getting to the bottom of several unusual cases involving the poaching of a bald eagle, bears, and a gray whale.
Citizens interested in ending the illegal harvest of the state’s wildlife and putting poachers behind bars can consider the following steps detailing how to become a game warden in Washington.
State-Level Game Warden Careers with the Washington Department of Fish
Essential College Education – Only candidates with a college degree are eligible to become fish and game wardens with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The minimum education requirement for these positions stipulates that candidates must have one of the following:
- A bachelor’s degree, preferably in Criminal Justice or the Natural Resource Sciences
- A two-year college degree and two years of full-time employment working in the natural resource field
- A two-year college degree and three years of recent active military service
Application and Hiring Process – Before submitting their initial application, candidates will need to meet a few other prerequisites. Besides education, the minimum game warden requirements for employment also mandate:
- Being a US citizen at least 21 years of age
- Having no felony convictions
- Being in good physical, medical, and mental shape with correctable eyesight to at least 20/40
Once prospective applicants have these requirements out of the way they will be ready to get the application process started. This starts by taking an initial test through the independent Public Safety Testing company and paying a $45 exam fee. Applicants would register for the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Test under the police heading. The test covers:
- Natural resources
- Wildlife regulations
- Organizational and observational skills
- Map reading
To prepare for this exam, candidates are encouraged to study hunting and fishing guidelines posted on the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website.
If applicants pass this initial evaluation they will next need to complete a Physical Ability Test comprised of:
- 300-meter run
- 1.5-mile run/walk
At this point candidates will be graded on their aggregate performance, and if they are chosen to continue, will face the second phase of the application process:
- Oral board interview
- Background investigation
- Psychological evaluation
- Polygraph examination
- Medical examination, including a drug screening
Washington State Game Warden Training – Once applicants have managed to successfully distinguish themselves through examinations and interviews, the next big challenge will be the three-phase training process:
- 720-hour Basic Law Enforcement Academy: Here new recruits will train with their fellow law enforcement officers from other city, county, and state agencies in basic law enforcement tactics. Washington’s game wardens have a level of authority similar to municipal police officers and sheriff deputies as it pertains to arrest, pursuit, and use of force.
- One month of in-house training at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Enforcement Headquarters in Olympia where cadets will learn more specifics of what it takes to become a game warden.
- 12-week Field Training Officer program with an experienced fish and wildlife enforcement training officer.
When all the training is said and done, new game wardens will have spent the better part of a year – 34 weeks – developing the skills necessary to protect the state’s wildlife and natural environment.
Qualifying for Federal-Level Game Warden Careers in Washington
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal agency responsible for enforcing laws related to the theft and abuse of natural resources on federal lands, shows preference to applicants with bachelor’s degrees in relevent majors, which can include:
- Wildlife Management
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Criminal Justice
- Law Enforcement
Applications are submitted through the USA Jobs website. Special Agent positions are only open to US citizens who are between the ages of 21-36.
Training takes place in two phases:
- 44 weeks of personalized field training one-on-one with a field training officer
- 20 weeks of basic wildlife law enforcement training in Georgia, covering:
- Electronic surveillance
- Use of firearms
- Wildlife identification
- Crime scene investigations
Washington’s Fish and Game Wardens are Going After More than Just Deer Poachers
With five national forests and a national volcanic monument, Washington State is home to one of the most diverse wildlife populations in the country. No other single state possesses a rainforest, active volcanoes, an ocean boundary, jagged mountain peaks, high altiplano-like desert and rolling sage fields that together form an incredible range of environments and ecosystems.
Game wardens are tasked with protecting the natural inhabitants of all these habitats while pursuing poachers who commit crimes, which have recently included:
- The killing of a bald eagle in Manchester State Park
- The harpooning and shooting of a gray whale off the western tip of the state near Neah Bay
- The killing of multiple brown and black bears in Okanogan County
- A cougar found killed in Columbia County
Washington Wildlife Officer Salary
According to data released by the Washington State Employment Security Department in 2013, the average fish and game warden salary in Washington was 20% higher than the national average that year.
In fact, game wardens in Washington earned an average of $60,144 in 2013, compared to the national average of $48,070.
Fish and game wardens employed by the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife progress through a 12-level salary schedule as shown here (Washington State Employment Security Department in 2013):
Fish & Wildlife Enforcement Officer 1 (seasonal)
Step A: $45,828
Step B: $47,016
Step C: $48,168
Step D: $49,368
Step E: $50,568
Step F: $51,864
Step G: $53,148
Step H: $54,504
Step I: $55,836
Step J: $57,240
Step K: $58,656
Step L: $60,120
Fish & Wildlife Enforcement Officer 2 (full-time)
Step A: $50,568
Step B: $51,864
Step C: $53,148
Step D: $54,504
Step E: $55,836
Step F: $57,240
Step G: $58,656
Step H: $60,120
Step I: $61,632
Step J: $63,192
Step K: $64,740
Step L: $66,420