The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, within the Department of the Interior, is the federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats.
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Within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), which is responsible for enforcing federal conservation laws, managing wildlife populations, and responding to climate change. Just a few of the obligations of the OLE include:
- Combatting invasive species
- Conserving migratory birds
- Preserving wildlife habitat
- Promoting international wildlife conservation
- Recovering endangered species
- Safeguarding fisheries
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s OLE focuses on:
- Breaking up international and domestic wildlife trafficking rings that target protected animals and plants
- Enforcing federal migratory game bird hunting regulations and working with states to protect other game species and preserve legitimate hunting opportunities
- Engaging Americans as conservation partners
- Inspecting wildlife shipments to ensure compliance with law and treaties and detect illegal trade
- Preventing potentially devastating threats to wildlife and plant resources, including illegal trade, unlawful commercial exploitation, habitat destruction, environmental contaminants, and industrial hazards
- Preventing the introduction and interstate spread of injurious wildlife
- Protecting wildlife from environmental contaminants and industrial hazards
- Safeguarding habitat for threated and endangered species
- Working with and training tribal, state and federal law enforcement officers
Fish and Game Warden Job Description
Federal wildlife law enforcement officers are referred to as special agents, although they are informally often referred to as fish and game wardens.
Fish and game wardens, within the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, are criminal investigators who are called upon to enforce federal wildlife laws within the United States. These federal law enforcement professionals are responsible for targeting crimes that undermine the nation’s efforts to conserve wildlife resources.
Fish and game warden jobs may involve investigating crimes that range from international wildlife smuggling to illegal game bird hunting. Their job duties include collecting evidence, interviewing witnesses, conducting surveillance, organizing raids, making arrests, and preparing evidence for court. They also often work undercover to infiltrate illegal wildlife trafficking rings.
Fish and game wardens may work anywhere in the United States, from small, rural duty stations to large, multi-agency offices in major cities, such as Los Angeles and New York City. It is common for fish and game wardens to work with state, tribal or foreign law enforcement agencies, and common federal partnerships include work with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Environmental Protection Agency, and Homeland Security Investigations.
How to Become a Game Warden: Meeting the Requirements
Just 250 special agents work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, making jobs in this field very competitive. Individuals who want to learn how to become a game warden must first ensure they meet the minimum requirements for employment. Specifically, candidates must:
- Be citizens of the United States
- Be at least 21 years old but less than 37 (at the time of appointment)
- Possess a valid driver’s license
All candidates must also be willing to sign a mobility agreement that states they are willing to accept reassignments to any location throughout their careers.
Although not mandatory, a four-year bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, wildlife management, or a related field is preferred. Given that only the most highly qualified applicants are chosen to complete the employment process, many individuals seeking game warden careers choose to complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
The employment process for game warden jobs includes meeting the Service’s medical, physical and psychological requirements, which includes passing a medical examination and a number of physical fitness tests.
Candidates must also participate in mandatory drug testing and psychological assessments. Thereafter, qualified candidates complete the interview process. Chosen candidates for fish and game warden jobs must then undergo an extensive background investigation.
All new game wardens must complete 20 weeks of formal training in both criminal investigations and wildlife law enforcement at the Federal Law Enforcement Agency (FLETC) in Glynco, Georgia. The training program for new game wardens includes study in:
- Rules of evidence
- Electronic surveillance
- Use of firearms
- Waterfowl identification
- Crime scene identification
- Case report writing
Upon the successful completion of FLETC training, new game wardens report to their first duty stations, where they are expected to complete a 44-week Field Training and Evaluation Program, during which time they work closely with experienced officers who provide guidance on investigative skills and wildlife laws.
Game Warden Salary Expectations
New game wardens begin their careers at the GS-7, GS-9 or GS-11 federal levels, depending upon their education and experience. The full performance level for this career path is GS-12, with exceptional individuals finally achieving the senior special agent position, which is at the GS-13 level. The general schedule pay scale, as of 2014, is as follows:
- GS-7: $34,319 – $44,615
- GS-9: $41,979 – $54,570
- GS-11: $50,790 – $66,027
- GS-13: $72,391 – $94,108
In addition to their base salaries, game wardens can also expect to earn Law Enforcement Availability Pay (LEAP), which is 25 percent above their base pay. Game wardens stationed in high-cost geographical areas may also receive locality pay in addition to their base salary.