How to Begin a Career as a Wildlife Officer?
by Carrie Wilson
Question: I’m in high school and last month my dad and I were contacted by a game warden while we were out fishing. He was really nice. After checking our licenses and sturgeon cards, and once he figured out we were all good, he spent at least another 20 minutes with us answering a bunch of questions. Afterward my dad and I were talking about it and I’m thinking now that becoming a game warden is something I would like to consider someday for a job. I’m only 16 though so what should I do now to prepare for a career as a game warden? (Josh M., Benicia)
Answer: First of all, thank you for your interest! You are lucky you have a dad who is interested and willing to pass along the love of fishing to the next generation. We are always excited to hear from young enthusiastic outdoors people like you who desire a career that will benefit California’s extraordinary fish and wildlife resources.
According to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Captain Patrick Foy, “The same things that may motivate you also motivated most of today’s Wildlife Officers (formerly Game Wardens). We have a passion to protect California’s fish and wildlife resources while patrolling in 4×4 trucks, boats of all sizes, ATVs, and even horseback and personal watercraft. We think spending a career outside in California’s wild places beats pretty much any other career out there. As law enforcement officers, we have the authority to investigate all crimes and arrest all criminals – whether they are poachers, polluters, violent criminals, drug dealers, reckless drivers, auto thieves, etc. and therefore we help keep law abiding Californians safe. We thrive on helping the most vulnerable of California’s citizens and the fish and wildlife with no voice. And we are excited to meet young people, such as you, who share our values and want to pursue a career as a Wildlife Officer.”
Knowing what career you want to pursue in high school makes it much easier to make that dream a reality. And yes, there are several actions you can take to prepare yourself for a wildlife officer career with CDFW. Here are a few important tips:
- Continue to develop your passion for fishing and the outdoors, and consider taking up hunting if you don’t already. Although a fishing and hunting background can help with your career as a wildlife officer, it is not required. Sounds like you’ve got the fishing part figured out!
- Do well in high school, plan to attend college, and do well there. We check all of your grades in both high school and college. The grades you are earning right now make a difference. Earn a four-year college degree to be more competitive than those who meet the minimum requirement of 60 units.
- What to study in college? Whatever interests you! Many Wildlife Officers have bachelor’s degrees in subjects ranging from English and math, to the more traditional wildlife management and biology. Just be sure to meet the minimum 18 units of required courses listed at the link below.
- Develop excellent public speaking and communication skills.
- Learn to speak a second language if you do not already.
- Never use drugs. Even a single use of any “hard drug” results in automatic disqualification depending on how old you are and when you used them.
- Maintain a good driving record. We thoroughly examine your driving record from the day you begin driving.
- Crimes such as shoplifting, vandalism, theft from employers, etc., are inconsistent with a career in law enforcement, but that should be obvious! You are required to disclose all crimes committed on your initial application, whether or not you were caught.
- Consider military service. Serving in the military is an excellent way to gain real world experience and develop the leadership skills needed to thrive as a Wildlife Officer. Veterans who pass our written exam are automatically moved into the number one rank which is a substantial benefit to them. Just make sure you also gain the college education necessary to meet minimum qualifications.
- Maintain excellent physical fitness, including knowing how to swim. You must pass a series of physical fitness tests, including a swim test to be accepted into the Academy.
Become thoroughly familiar with the CDFW Law Enforcement Division website. It lists the minimum qualifications you will need to be accepted into the Academy.
With the above tips in mind, everywhere you exceed our minimum qualifications makes you more competitive for selection. We hope this helps you develop a plan to make your career goals a reality!
Note: Although Josh is in high school and not yet eligible to apply, any interested and eligible applicants should begin checking back around August. The application period is expected to be open in the September-October timeframe.
Carrie Wilson is a marine environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. While she cannot personally answer everyone’s questions, she will select a few to answer each week in this column. Please contact her at CalOutdoors@wildlife.ca.gov.
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