Wildlife Officer Career Profile

Job Duties, Education Requirements and Salary Outlook for Wildlife Officers

U.S. Forest and Wildlife Service officer patrolling the Sonoran desert area of Arizona
••• David McNew / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images

For many, there's nothing better than spending quality time in the great outdoors. Communing with nature, watching and interacting with wildlife, and even helping to make the world and the environment an even better place than it was when they found it. For those people who love the outdoors and are considering careers in criminology, a job as a wildlife conservation officer may be the perfect opportunity.

Wildlife officers serve a very important role in both the environmental and law enforcement communities. These specially trained officers work to ensure that our natural resources, parks, wildlife and recreation areas remain available and as pristine as possible to be enjoyed for years to come.

Job Functions and Work Environment of Wildlife Officers

Wildlife conservation officers help to maintain our natural areas. They work to protect endangered species as well as to prevent other species from becoming endangered. Wildlife officers work closely with other law enforcement officers and interact with a variety of nature lovers, including hikers, campers, and hunters.

Wildlife officers may work in federal law enforcement jobs, state conservation agencies, a local or county parks department, or a special division within a county or municipal law enforcement agency.

Officers often provide conservation education classes and hunter safety courses. They enforce laws related to environmental and nature conservation issues, especially those dealing with hunting, firearms safety and endangered species protection.

The job of a wildlife officer often includes:

  • Patrolling forests and conservation areas
  • Providing conservation education
  • Providing hunter safety courses
  • Enforcing conservation laws
  • Checking hunting and other conservation licenses
  • Enforcing hunting limits
  • General law enforcement functions
  • Report writing
  • Providing courtroom testimony
  • Making arrests

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

In some states and other jurisdictions, wildlife conservation agencies have been combined with water and marine patrol agencies. This means some wildlife officers may serve dual roles as marine patrol officers and thus may just as easily find themselves patrolling woods as well as water.

Education and Skill Requirements for Wildlife Officers

Wildlife officers are typically fully-commissioned police officers with full police powers within their jurisdictions. In many agencies, wildlife officer careers are one of the many jobs in criminal justice that don't require a college degree. However, as with any law enforcement career, a high school diploma or GED will almost always be required.

In addition to the required diploma, candidates can expect other requirements regarding work history and practical experience. Past military experience, prior work in law enforcement or previous relevant employment that includes contact with the public in some capacity will likely be necessary.

Many agencies are beginning to require at least some college, and preference is often given to those with at least an associates degree. It may be advisable to earn either a ​degree in criminal justice or a degree in criminology if you lack previous work or military credentials. Most law enforcement agencies give veteran's preference points, meaning military veterans will take priority in hiring.

Due to the nature of the job, strong interpersonal, problem solving and analytical skills are a must. A passion for nature and the outdoors is also necessary to be truly effective in a career as a wildlife officer. A thorough background check, possibly including a polygraph exam, will likely be a component of the hiring process.

Job Growth and Salary Outlook

Growth within law enforcement jobs, in general, is expected to be below average through 2020, according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the outlook for wildlife conservation officers is no different. However, because of early retirements, turnover and natural attrition, someone looking to land a career as a wildlife officer should have little difficulty finding work.

Wildlife officers can expect to earn between $33,000 and $88,000 per year, depending on the employing agency, work location and length of service. Starting salary will typically be between $33,000 and $44,000. In addition to salary, wildlife officers, like most public safety professionals, enjoy generous health and retirement benefits.

Is a Career as a Wildlife Officer Right for You?

There are plenty of reasons to be a police officer, and a job as a wildlife officer is no different. If you love the great outdoors and are passionate about nature, conservation, hunting or other outdoor recreation, you may very much enjoy the opportunity to help keep these activities safe and enjoyable for all.

The job also provides lots of variety, new challenges and great rewards, both tangible and intangible. If you want to work outdoors and help keep the environment safe, protect endangered species and promote safety and conservation in your community, then a job as a wildlife officer may just be the perfect criminology career for you.