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Wildlife Officer: Education Requirements and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a wildlife officer. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and training to find out if this is the career for you.

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Wildlife officers are also called game wardens. They are a type of police officer who focuses on the adherence to and regulation of fish and game laws in their assigned work areas.

Essential Information

Wildlife officers work in fishing and hunting areas and enforce laws pertaining to the outdoors to ensure that the public stays safe and obeys all regulations concerning wildlife and natural resources. Education requirements vary, but many employers seek candidates with a bachelor's degree. Completion of state training is also required for wildlife officers.

Required Education Two years of postsecondary education minimum; bachelor's degree in natural science, criminal justice or related field may be preferred
Other Requirements Must be 21 years old, U.S. citizen, pass background and/or drug tests and complete state-run training program
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 2% for all fish and game wardens
Mean Annual Salary (2015)* $54,970 for all fish and game wardens

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements for Wildlife Officers

Wildlife officers are law enforcement officials, granted full police powers, whose positions revolve around enforcing laws regarding wildlife. Most positions for wildlife officers require the completion of a bachelor's degree program. Bachelor's degrees in applicable natural sciences, such as biology or criminal justice, may be preferred or required. Experience in fish and wildlife management or other law enforcement roles may be substituted in some cases. Many states require applicants to have at least two years of postsecondary education.

Training and Other Requirements

In addition to traditional schooling in a college or university setting, wildlife officers must often complete state-run training courses that last 3-12 months. These courses are intensive, and may be followed by additional field training. As with other law enforcement roles, wildlife officers must be 21 years of age and U.S. citizens. Applicants will be subject to rigorous background checks and drug tests, and may be required to take polygraph tests. Applicants should also have integrity and a strong work ethic.

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Career Information

Also known as fish and game wardens, wildlife officers patrol in order to prevent poaching and other infringements of laws regarding natural resources. They may also be called on to investigate accidents and take part in search and rescue operations. Other duties might include teaching wildlife programs to youth groups and schools, cooperating with other law enforcement agencies and regulating specific state or local laws related to boating, hunting or other outdoor activities.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, wildlife officers earned an average annual salary of $54,970 in 2015. Job growth was expected at a rate of two percent between 2014 and 2024, which was slightly less than that of other law enforcement officers as a whole and also less than the national average for all careers. Wildlife officers are generally employed by state and local jurisdictions, with most officers employed at the state level (www.bls.gov).

Skills

Important skills required for wildlife officers include firearm handling and maintenance as well as experience with modes of transportation necessary for the position, such as small watercraft and all-terrain vehicles. Additional skills include effective communication; the duties of wildlife officers bring them in contact with the public on a regular basis, both with suspects who must be investigated and with communities as part of outreach and training efforts.

Wildlife officers receive training for their work either through a dedicated program or through a related bachelor's degree program before they enter a state-run training course. They must know how to use and maintain firearms, handle multiple forms of transportation, such as cars and boats, and have an understanding of fish and wildlife management.

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