Become a Conservation Officer: Education and Career Roadmap
Learn how to become a conservation officer. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in the field of wildlife conservation.
Do I Want to Be a Conservation Officer?
Conservation officers, also known as game wardens, wildlife managers and peace officers, are law enforcement agents who uphold laws and regulations relating to wildlife and the natural environment. They may work for state or federal governments as well as natural resource organizations. These officers enforce laws related to hunting and fishing and provide public safety for state parks, trail systems and other protected areas.
Conservation officers do a lot of work in the field, patrolling assigned areas by foot, all-terrain vehicle, boat or other transportation method with minimal supervision. Conservation officers must typically meet physical fitness and background check requirements, because this is law enforcement work outdoors and it can be physically strenuous. Conservation officers carry out their duties in all kinds of weather and patrol a wide variety of terrain. Skillful handling of firearms is essential, because conservation officers may interact with also-armed hunters and other park and trail visitors, some of whom may be aggressive at times. Shifts can include night, weekend and holiday work; some agencies expect their officers to participate in overnight travel, too.
In some states, aspiring conservation officers may complete a postsecondary program in a field like wildlife conservation. More often, they complete a state-developed conservation officer training program. Positions are commonly found within state government, and each state usually has its own training standards. Some states require prospective conservation officers to complete both college and statewide training programs. The following table contains the core requirements for becoming a conservation officer.
|Degree Level||Associate's or bachelor's degree; state conservation officer training* ** ***|
|Degree Field||Wildlife management, natural resource sciences, criminal justice, police sciences* ** ***|
|Licenses||Valid driver's license*** ****; valid hunting license (some states)***; valid peace officer license (some states)***** ******|
|Experience||Entry-level after successful completion of training program** ***|
|Key Skills||Physical strength and stamina, willingness to spend time in various natural conditions, problem solving skills, decision-making abilities, ability to work with others* ** *** ****|
|Computer Skills||Software programs for creating and filing reports, such as data base, spreadsheet and word processing software; industry tools may include mapping software*|
|Additional Requirements||Ability to drive all terrain vehicles; ability to use a handgun and/or rifle; knowledge of DNA and blood collection techniques*; at least 21 years of age (some states)***|
Sources: *O*NET Online, **State of Michigan, Department of Natural Resources, ***Pennsylvania Game Commission, Wildlife Conservation Officer Careers, ****New York State, Department of Environmental Conservation, *****Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, ******Missouri Department of Conservation
Step 1: Obtain Postsecondary Education
Earning a college degree can provide a useful background and strengthen one's application to a state conservation officer training program. In fact, some states do require some college work, and the majority of all conservation officers hold a bachelor's degree. Examples of relevant training include associate's or bachelor's degree programs in wildlife management or environmental conservation. Courses may cover topics like forest ecology, biology, forest recreation and water resources. In some states, like Idaho, bachelor's degree holders may find entry-level positions as conservation officers, though government positions in most states typically require additional training.
- Enroll in a peace officer training program. Students seeking an alternative educational path may complete a peace officer training program through a community or vocational college. This program may be offered as a stand-alone certificate program as a part of 2-year associate's degree program. Courses cover patrol procedures, basic law enforcement, sociology and defensive tactics.
- Ensure physical fitness. As law enforcement agents, conservation officers must pass physical fitness tests. These tests ensure that enforcement agents have the agility and fitness levels to make appropriate responses in the field and are often required before entering a formal training program. Tests generally include running, swimming and other physical exercises.
Step 2: Complete a State Training Program
Many states require conservation officers to undergo a 6-12 month training program. Though prior college work isn't always required, it can be beneficial. Acceptance into a program generally constitutes an offer of employment after a candidate successfully meets all eligibility requirements and completes the training. These programs vary by state, but usually train recruits on environmental law compliance and wildlife management. Specific instruction may include informing the public on wildlife regulations and issues as well as enforcing laws and regulations regarding hunting permits and licenses. Recruits also receive additional training on firearms, boating and special investigations.
- Make sure you are able to pass physical fitness tests. Someone who opts to complete a training program operated by the state is still required to meet appropriate fitness standards. It's important to stay in shape throughout the training program and official employment. Additionally, throughout the training period, trainees may also be called upon at random to demonstrate fitness levels.
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