What Does a Conservation Officer Do?

Conservation officers are environmental guardians. They may also be known as game wardens, though some of these individuals help protect both land and wildlife. Read on to see what they do and the qualifications you need for the job. Schools offering Natural Resources & Conservation degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Duties and Responsibilities

Conservation officers work for the U.S. Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or state bureaus with similar names, and have the same authority as police officers. They enforce laws related to commercial and pleasure fishing, poaching, outdoor recreation (such as ATVs), and environmental infractions. Some inspect wildlife rehabilitation groups, bait dealers, taxidermists, and others.

Public relations and education are a huge part of a conservation officer's job. For example, conservation officers meet with local groups to teach classes on boating or snowmobiling safety. They provide the public with information about trapping and hunting regulations. Schools regularly invite them to speak to children about conservation laws and issues.

Sometimes wildlife intrudes into the human domain. When this happens, conservation officers arrive on the scene. If an injured wild animal is on private property, conservation officers remove the animal safely. They also manage cases in which wild animals have become a nuisance to property owners.

Important Facts About Conservation Officers

Required Education High school diploma required; undergraduate degree strongly recommended
Work Environment Outdoor as well as office settings: fieldwork required
Key Skills Inductive reasoning, interpersonal communication, problem-solving
Similar Occupations Conservation scientist, park ranger, animal trainer

Job Qualifications

Though requirements to become a conservation officer vary by state, completion of a bachelor's degree program with coursework in environmental studies and criminal justice would make you an ideal candidate in most cases. Prior experience working in forestry or a wildlife sciences field plus some related coursework can compensate for the lack of a four-year degree. If you're interested in this career, you likely have a lot of experience in outdoor recreation and perhaps have been affiliated with preservation groups. This informal experience will help you on the job.

To qualify for training, officer candidates must pass medical and psychological examinations. Agility and physical fitness tests are also required. As an officer candidate, you'll need to have a clean record. Part of a law conservation officer's job is to be an example to the community and good moral character is essential.

Although the DNR is a federal agency, some job requirements may vary by locale. For example, a region with large bodies of water will require the officer to pass a swimming test. You should check with your state office to find out the exact requirements.


Training programs generally last about six months. Some states require conservation officers to take their training in state police training academies, and others may have their own programs. Trainees must pass final examinations to qualify as police or peace officers to become conservation officers.

On-the-job training is also a part of the program. In some states, conservation officers are considered trainees or probationary officers for up to two years of employment. Training includes instruction in outdoor rescue techniques, use of job-specific equipment and vehicles, defensive skills and law enforcement driving.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to PayScale.com, the majority of conservation officers earn between $25,750 and $88,540 a year, as of September 2015. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the number of employed fish and game wardens is expected to increase only 1% between 2012 and 2022. The median salary among these professionals was $50,880 as of 2014.

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