California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Green Leaf   Fish and Game Wardens in California

May also be called: Conservation Officers; Game Wardens; Park Rangers; Park Wardens; Rangers; Refuge Officers; Wildlife Control Agents; Wildlife Enforcement Officers; and Wildlife Officers

What Would I Do?

Fish and Game Wardens, known as refuge officers in the federal government, work for state and federal agencies. Fish and Game Wardens enforce hunting, boating, and recreational and commercial fishing laws. They enforce laws related to trapping, falconry, exotic animals, and endangered species. They also enforce conservation and environmental laws. Wardens monitor changes, disturbances, and population numbers in fish and game habitats. They inspect commercial fishing operations, canneries, processing plants, and fish markets.

Wardens protect fish and wildlife and their habitats from criminal behavior such as poaching (illegal hunting or fishing). They investigate crimes against wildlife. They preserve and protect our natural resources against pollution or destruction. Wardens also investigate and arrest marijuana growers and other drug traffickers. They seize and collect evidence. They interview witnesses, write reports, and testify in court. Wardens may also conduct surveillance or undercover operations.

Wardens investigate hunting accidents and participate in search and rescue operations. They assist other law enforcement agencies as needed. Wardens may also participate in Homeland Security efforts on state lands and waters. They may investigate coastal water pollution or respond to and investigate oil or hazardous material spills.

As sworn peace officers, Wardens may be required to enforce other state or federal laws in order to preserve and protect public health, safety, and wildlife.

Public contact is a major part of a Warden’s job. In California, Wardens make contact with more than 295,000 people and issue more than 15,000 law violation citations each year.

Wardens patrol by car, on foot, or on horseback. They may also use all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, airplanes, helicopters, boats, jet skis, snowmobiles, snowshoes, or scuba-diving equipment.

Tools and Technology

Fish and Game Wardens use tools such as biological evidence collection kits; emergency first-aid kits; fishing reels; handcuffs; horse bridles and saddles; infrared cameras; sonar equipment; two-way radios; and weapons, including handguns, rifles, and shotguns. They also use map creation, spreadsheet, and word processing software.

Green Economy

Fish and Game Wardens are expected to play a role in the emerging green economy by working in activities related to environmental protection.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Patrol assigned areas by car, boat, airplane, horse, or on foot, to enforce game, fish, or boating laws and to manage wildlife programs, lakes, or land.Public Safety and Security
Investigate hunting accidents and reports of fish and game law violations, and issue warnings or citations and file reports as necessary.Critical Thinking
Serve warrants, make arrests, and compile and present evidence for court actions.Law and Government
Protect and preserve native wildlife, plants, and ecosystems.Biology
Promote and provide hunter and trapper safety training.Education and Training
Seize equipment used in fish and game law violations, and arrange for disposition of fish or game illegally taken or possessed.Complex Problem Solving
Provide assistance to other local law enforcement agencies as required.Active Listening
Address schools, civic groups, sporting clubs, and the media to disseminate information concerning wildlife conservation and regulations.Oral Expression
Recommend revisions or changes in hunting and trapping regulations or seasons and in animal management programs so that wildlife balances and habitats can be maintained.Judgment and Decision Making
Inspect commercial operations relating to fish and wildlife, recreation, and protected areas.Problem Sensitivity
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Wardens work outdoors in all seasons and weather conditions. They typically work 40 hours a week but may be required to work overtime as well as nights, weekends, and holidays. They patrol a variety of areas, including backcountry, beaches, deserts, lakes, rivers, wetlands, oceans, and urban areas. They may work in thick brush, dense woods, or underwater. Wardens typically patrol alone, often in remote locations with minimal backup; therefore, the work can be dangerous. Wardens may encounter armed and dangerous felons. They may be exposed to poisonous plants or hazardous materials. Wardens may encounter or be required to handle wild animals or venomous snakes, spiders, or insects. Therefore, they may run the risk of bites, scratches, or stings. However, Wardens receive specialized training in the academy that prepares them for these events. Although Wardens work primarily in the field, they may do some of their work in offices. Wardens who work in remote areas may have offices in their homes. They wear uniforms, use protective equipment, and carry weapons.

Fish and Game Wardens may belong to public employee unions, such as the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA).

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Fish and Game Warden may appeal to those who enjoy activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions, as well as working outdoors and with wildlife.

Aspiring Fish and Game Wardens should be able to work independently but also enjoy public interaction. They should also possess decision-making, leadership, and organizational skills. Effective oral and written communication skills are critical.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?

Wages vary by agency but typically range from approximately $33,800 to $67,700. Newly hired Wardens receive a salary while attending the academy.

Fish and Game Wardens typically receive health and life insurance, vacation, sick leave, holiday pay, and retirement benefits. Most departments also provide uniform and equipment allowances. Some Wardens may also receive education incentive pay.

What is the Job Outlook?

Due to governmental budget limitations, job growth is not expected in the near future. Most job openings will be created by the need to replace Fish and Game Wardens who retire, promote to supervisory positions, or leave the field for other reasons.

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

Job requirements vary by agency. State of California Department of Fish and Wildlife Warden applicants must be at least 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. In addition, they are required to have at least two years (60 semester units) of college with a concentration in police science or law enforcement, biological science, natural resources conservation, ecology, or a related field. However, most applicants have a bachelor's degree or higher.

Federal refuge officer applicants must be between 21 and 37 years of age at the time of application and possess a four-year college degree. A high school diploma plus one year of specialized work experience at the General Schedule (GS)-4 level may be substituted for the college degree. Refuge officers also have a maximum retirement age of 57.

Applicants to any agency must be U.S. citizens at the time of appointment. They must also have a valid driver license, have no felony convictions, and be in excellent physical condition. Applicants should also be knowledgeable of federal and state environmental laws and regulations.

Applicants who meet the minimum requirements must pass a written examination and an oral interview. They must pass a physical ability and drug test, as well as a polygraph test and a fingerprint check. In addition, applicants will have a medical examination, vision screening, and psychological evaluation. Applicants must also pass a thorough background investigation.

Entry-level California Department of Fish and Wildlife Wardens begin their careers as cadets by attending an eight-month Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)-certified academy in Butte County. Applicants who have already attained peace officer status attend an eight-week academy.

Federal refuge officers attend an 18-week training academy in Georgia and an additional 2-week academy in West Virginia. Applicants who have already attained peace officer status attend the same 20-week academy as new recruits.

Upon graduation from the academy, Wardens spend 10 weeks with field training officers (FTO). While in the FTO program, new Wardens refine their skills learned in the academy by working in a variety of field situations under the watchful eye of the FTO. At the end of the FTO cycle, Wardens report to their assigned areas.

The application and hiring process can take several months.


Applicants with volunteer or work experience in a wildlife setting may have greater employment opportunities. Those who have the ability to make minor vehicle repairs and those with experience operating equipment such as bulldozers, tractors, boats, or airplanes may also be an asset.

Early Career Planning

High school students interested in a Fish and Game Warden career should take courses in English, biology, social studies, communications, and physical education. Volunteer work or a part-time job at a national park or fish hatchery can also help students prepare for this career. Outdoor hobbies such as hunting, fishing, camping, and hiking are also beneficial.

Law enforcement training programs may be available through Regional Occupational Programs (ROP). To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Web site.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is mandatory to review legal updates and to enhance and refresh job skills, such as defensive tactics and firearms. In California, Fish and Game Wardens must complete at least 36 hours of continuing education every two years. Refuge officers must complete a minimum of 40 hours in-service training each year.


In California, POST offers several advanced certificates to Wardens who have met the experience, training, and education requirements. For more information, go to the POST website at In addition, Wardens must maintain Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and First Aid certification. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Corrections, Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement, and Police.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Fish and Game Wardens are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
State Government91.1%
Local Government8.9%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

General information and employment applications may be obtained through federal and state personnel and agency websites. Job fairs, college career centers, or newspapers may also advertise job openings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Fish and Game Wardens.

  • Fish and Game
  • Government Offices
  • Wildlife and Fisheries

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

With experience and training, Wardens can promote to higher-ranking and administrative positions. They can also transfer into special units or become field training officers. Those with advanced degrees may have better promotional opportunities.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Fish and Game Wardens with links to more information.

Conservation ScientistsProfile
Correctional Officers and JailersGuide
Detectives and Criminal InvestigatorsGuide
Fire Inspectors and InvestigatorsProfile
Police and Sheriff Patrol OfficersGuide
Private Detectives and InvestigatorsProfile
Security GuardsGuide

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification33-3031
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Fish and Game Wardens33-3031.00
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)RIS
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Wildlife, Fish and Wildlands Science and Management.030601
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)
   Wildlife and Fisheries011520