Could You Be a Conservation Officer?

Some of you may have read the recent article profiling former SEAL Craig “Sawman” Sawyer and his adventures on the Rhino Wars. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Chasing poachers under the cover of darkness, hunting them while they, the hunters, attempt to line their pockets curtesy of the illegal wildlife trade?

Maybe you’ve even thought, “I could do that.”

Guess what? Maybe you can. Maybe you can be a conservation officer.

What do conservation officers do?

Walter A. Cotton, game warden, and Gerren Lanier, mapping specialist, search for alligators near Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.
Walter A. Cotton, game warden, and Gerren Lanier, mapping specialist, search for alligators near Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.

Conservation officers, known by a variety of titles depending upon their jurisdiction and often referred to as “game wardens,” are law enforcement officers who specialize in the enforcement of laws and regulations related to hunting, fishing, boating and related activities. In most jurisdictions, a modern conservation officer is a fully sworn police officer able to respond to any crime they encounter – necessary not only because they never know who or what they may run across while on patrol, but also because they may be the only law for miles when in the most rural areas.

Every state and territory, as well as the Federal government, employs conservation officers. That’s the good news. The bad news is that none of these jurisdictions employ a great deal of officers, meaning opportunities are both widespread but limited. This also means competition is stiff.

If you think you might want a career in wildlife enforcement, let me give you a few tips to get you started down the right trail.

  • Education – all entry level positions require at least a high school diploma or GED. Due to the ever growing complexities of modern law enforcement, many departments are beginning to require college credits if not a college degree. Preferred degrees include biology, criminal justice or related fields. Check with individual employers for specific requirements.
  • Work conditions – COs work in a variety of settings and weather, often in the most remote areas and conduct patrol via vehicles, boat, airplane, ATV or on foot. This means that you need to be physically fit and able to function effectively under stress and for long hours.
  • Desired skills – regardless of minimum entry level education, COs are expected to possess specific job related skills. These skills vary slightly but usually include ability to swim, communicate both verbally and in writing, understanding of advanced hunting and fishing skills and ability to handle firearms safely and comfortably. Remember, not only will you carry a firearm, but so will the majority of those you encounter daily.
  • Clean record – all police agencies require applicants possess a clean record; the only difference is their specific definition of clean. Due to the competitive nature of CO positions, potential applicants need to remember one – squeaky.
  • Advancement opportunities – the vast majority of conservation officers will spend their entire career in the field, in uniform performing traditional patrol duties. Each department offers the possibility of promotion through the ranks; however, these opportunities are limited primarily due to the small size of each department. Most departments also include investigators, detectives or covert operators. Each of these positions offers their own unique requirements and rewards.

If you still think the Thin Green Line might be for you, I would encourage you to contact the specific agency you wish to work for. This will allow you tailor your perpetration to their specific requirements.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “Certainly there is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never really cared for anything else thereafter.”

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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