What Does a Wildlife Officer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Derek Abella © The Balance 2019 

Wildlife officers serve an important role in the environmental and law enforcement communities. These specially-trained officers work to ensure that natural resources, parks, wildlife, and recreation areas remain available to the public and yet as pristine as possible. They protect endangered species and prevent other species from becoming endangered. Wildlife officers work closely with other law enforcement officers.

A job as a wildlife conservation officer can be the perfect opportunity for someone who loves communing with nature and watching and interacting with wildlife. It can be even more suitable for candidates who are considering a career in criminology.

Wildlife Officer Duties & Responsibilities

Wildlife officers may work in federal law enforcement jobs, for state conservation agencies, local or county parks departments, or special divisions of county or municipal law enforcement agencies. The job of a wildlife officer often includes the following duties:

  • Patrol forests and conservation areas.
  • Provide conservation education.
  • Provide hunter safety courses.
  • Enforce conservation laws.
  • Check hunting and other conservation licenses.
  • Enforce hunting limits.
  • Make arrests when necessary.
  • Write reports and provide courtroom testimony.

Wildlife officers enforce laws related to environmental and nature conservation issues, especially those dealing with hunting, firearms safety, and endangered species protection. Illegal hunting and fishing have the potential to decimate natural resources, and wildlife officers work to prevent that, as well as to maintain the safety of those who visit and explore wildlife habitats.

Wildlife Officer Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes wildlife officers in its data for fish and game wardens. Salaries fell within the following parameters in 2018:

  • Median Annual Salary: $57,710 ($27.75/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $80,140 ($38.53/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $40,090 ($19.28/hour)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

Education, Training, & Certification

Wildlife officers are typically fully-commissioned police officers with full police powers within their jurisdictions. Those looking for a career as wildlife officers should ideally have some type of related experience.

  • Education: Wildlife officer careers don't necessarily require a college degree. A high school diploma or GED will almost always be required, however, many agencies are beginning to require at least some college. Preference is often given to those with at least an associates degree. Earn either a ​degree in criminal justice or a degree in criminology if you lack previous work or military credentials.
  • Experience: Past military experience, prior work in law enforcement, or previous relevant employment that includes contact with the public in some capacity is typically necessary. Most law enforcement agencies give military veterans a priority in hiring.
  • Background check: A thorough background check, possibly including a polygraph exam, will likely be a component of the hiring process.

Wildlife Officer Skills & Competencies

This job requires an array of skills that are oriented to both wildlife and humans.

  • Interpersonal skills: Enforcing laws can mean confrontational encounters that must be deescalated, and the job can also involve helping and assisting others under both pleasant and dangerous circumstances.
  • Problem-solving skills: Both wildlife and hunters can get themselves into some odd and difficult situations, and a wildlife officer must be able to analyze options to rectify these situations.
  • Physical fitness: The job can involve extended periods of walking, climbing, and even swimming.
  • A passion for nature: Love of the environment and a passion for protecting it can be invaluable in this position.

Job Outlook

In general, growth within law enforcement jobs is expected to be about as fast as average for all occupations through 2026. The BLS anticipates job growth at about 7%, and the outlook for wildlife conservation officers is no different.

Someone looking to land a career as a wildlife officer should have little difficulty finding work due to early retirements, turnover, and natural attrition.

Work Environment

Wildlife officers spend the vast majority of their time patrolling forests, wooded areas, and other nature conservation areas. Much of their work is performed outdoors, even in inclement weather. Officers must be prepared to work in a variety of environments and in sometimes undesirable conditions.

Wildlife conservation agencies have been combined with water and marine patrol agencies in some states and other jurisdictions. These wildlife officers can serve dual roles as marine patrol officers and might find themselves patrolling water as well as woods.

Work Schedule

This is generally a full-time position. Depending on the department, shift work might be necessary to ensure that someone is always on duty. Paid overtime is common.

How to Get the Job


GameWardenEDU.org offers an interactive tool to narrow your search to the best program for you if you want to back up your experience with education, or if you have no related experience.


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provides a list of federal wildlife officer requirements. Do you have what it takes?


Popular Interview Questions summarizes a dozen key questions you're likely to be asked and provides some tips for good answers.

Comparing Similar Jobs

Some similar jobs and their median annual pay include: 

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018