Become a Wildlife Agent: Education and Career Roadmap

Should I Become a Wildlife Agent?

Wildlife agents work in state and national parks and wilderness areas, hunting grounds, and recreational areas. They're employed by state and federal wildlife or fish and game agencies in a variety of capacities. Some are law enforcement personnel trained to enforce wildlife state and federal laws and regulations on government lands. Others work as biologists, conservationists, or other wildlife-related field agents to preserve and maintain wildlife habitats and populations. The work of wildlife agents is physically demanding, and they work under extreme weather conditions or in remote areas.

Wildlife agents need a bachelor's degree in a field related to their specialty. Law enforcement wildlife agents must also successfully complete law enforcement academy training. Certifications are required, depending on the position.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree.
Degree Field(s) Biology, zoology, forestry, wildlife or fish management, law enforcement, criminal justice, agriculture, natural resource management.
Certification State law enforcement positions require Police (or Peace) Officer Standards Training (P.O.S.T.) certification.
Experience 1+ years.
Key Skills Geographic Information Systems (GIS), modeling software, GPS and mapping, biological specimen collection kits, evidence collection procedures; firearms training, ability to pass polygraph and psychological examination, no disqualifying criminal convictions, no substance abuse and the ability to meet physical fitness and sensory perception requirements; applicants must have U.S. Citizenship and be under age 37 required for federal positions.
Salary(2014) $58,270 per year (Median salary for all zoologists and wildlife biologists).

Sources: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State fish and wildlife departments, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Step 1: Obtain a Degree

The minimum educational requirement for some state wildlife agent positions is an associate's degree; however, many state and most federal positions require completion of a bachelor's degree program. Appropriate fields of study include natural resource management, wildlife management, criminal justice, forestry, and environmental studies. Relevant coursework includes agriculture, chemistry, biology, ecology, forest and range management, conservation, and zoology. Regardless of the degree field chosen, graduates looking to work with a state or federal wildlife department must have significant wildlife-related coursework to qualify for a wildlife agent position.

Step 2: Complete Background Check and Evaluations

If the candidate is highly qualified based on his or her application, he or she is evaluated. Federal wildlife agent positions and some state positions require the applicant to submit to an extensive background check involving credit history, criminal history, and personal history. Candidates must also pass a psychological evaluation and pass stringent physical requirements. Most wildlife agent positions require the applicant not have a criminal history. Candidates are also required to submit to drug testing and polygraph examination. If the polygraph reveals the candidate was not forthcoming on his or her application, deception will disqualify the applicant from a wildlife agent position.

Step 3: Complete Required Training

Newly-hired wildlife agents have to complete some field training, depending on the position held. The training is most extensive for law enforcement positions. Park ranger and other wildlife agent law enforcement positions require the candidate to complete law enforcement academy training which is provided by the government. State agents obtain P.O.S.T. certification upon graduation from a state police academy. In addition to police academy-type training, wildlife agents also have to complete training specific to the issues relevant to wildlife and law enforcement in national and state parks and other government lands. This training is physically rigorous and deals with typical law enforcement issues, including firearms training, criminal law and procedure, evidence procedures, surveillance, and rules of evidence.

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