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Becoming a Conservation Officer

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If you have been out fishing or hunting the past few weeks, and have been checked by me, you have probably noticed I have a sidekick with me.  Conservation Officer Randy Sullivan is his name, and we will be glued together for the next few weeks while he completes part of his Field Training Evaluation Program as a new officer.  Each year, as the baby boomers retire from our ranks, we have been hiring a handful of officers.  It dawned on me the other day, with all these new faces in the ranks ,that I’m becoming an “O.F.” or an old fart amongst our troops.

I often get questions about a career as a Conservation Officer, or game warden, from local high school and college-aged folks.  I decided that I would write my column about what the job is like and how you can become an Idaho Conservation Officer.

If you are interested in wildlife and like to have the most hands-on experience in a wildlife career, becoming a wildlife enforcement officer might be for you. Aside from working with wildlife, we also work with people—most are nice, and some not so much. We are the face of Idaho Fish and Game in our communities and people expect that you be there for them regardless of the nature of their call. Some are looking for information on particular areas, some have wildlife law questions, and others want to voice their opinions on Department management or laws. So in reality, being a conservation officer is not only a career in wildlife but a career in serving the good people of Idaho. To be honest, there are some days I would prefer to deal with an aggressive grizzly bear than some folks, but that is no different than any job out there I suppose.

The question I get asked the most is regarding the duties and responsibilities of a conservation officer. Idaho’s Conservation Officers are Peace Officers certified by Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Academy, which is the same Academy required by state troopers and deputy sheriffs. Typical duties include: detecting, investigating, and apprehending violators of fish and game laws, rules, and regulations; investigating suspected violations; issuing citations and making arrests; operating check stations; assisting other law enforcement agencies as requested or needed; maintaining a diary of daily activities, protection of crime scenes, collection and preservation of evidence, preparing case reports for the prosecutor and testifying at court proceedings. 

IDFG officers also enforce non-wildlife specific laws such as laws dealing with outfitters and guides, off-road vehicle, stream and fire protection, firearms, tribal law, mining, environmental, drug, and human safety. 

Officers must be self-motivated and independent workers. This is not an 8 to 5 job. We routinely work nights, holidays and weekends. Because officers may be the sole enforcement authority for a large geographic area, they are expected to be on call to respond to wildlife or enforcement emergencies seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

IDFG officers also work closely with biologists to collect information for wildlife studies, trap, tag and transplant wildlife, work with landowners to resolve wildlife damage problems, present programs to the public, write news articles, and participate in news programs.

Another frequent question I receive is “What kind of training or education do I need?” The below requirements are a bare minimum to become a conservation officer. The candidate must be a United States citizen, and must be or become an Idaho resident in conjunction with appointment as a conservation officer.  Competitive candidates possess a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and/or fisheries or a closely related field; although a degree is not necessary at least four upper level college courses in wildlife/fish management are. Out of the 100 conservation officers in Idaho almost all have a wildlife biology degree and about 10 percent of those have a master’s degree in a wildlife related field.

A candidate must be in excellent physical and mental health (minimum visual acuity is 20/100 corrected to 20/20 in both eyes).  Idaho Fish & Game’s conservation officers are the only employees of a law enforcement entity in Idaho that have a mandatory physical fitness assessment throughout our careers. Our job requires us to have the physical ability to walk in rugged terrain, work in extreme weather conditions, and lift and carry up to 100 pounds. Conservation Officers must meet all entrance requirements established by POST Council per Idaho Code 19-5109. Officers must meet physical fitness standards twice a year and firearms/defensive tactics qualifications throughout their employment.

Because we as conservation officers serve as the front line contact with the sporting public, having an interest and practical experience in hunting and fishing is very important. A candidate must also possess good social skills and be able to communicate with the public and have a true passion in serving people. Not only must we be able to talk to people, we have to live a life of high moral fortitude. Who wants a conservation officer living and working in their community who thinks they are above the law? Not me, and I would bet not you either. Applicants must be trustworthy, of high moral character and possess a background free of unfavorable incidents. Applicants are required to submit to and pass a polygraph examination. Employment Disqualifiers include: Proven allegations of domestic violence whether criminally charged or not; Allegations of moral turpitude (sexual deviancy, sexual encounters with underage persons, voyeurism, indecent exposure, etc.); theft; excessive alcohol usage that affects job performance; Illicit use of drugs. 

In the first few years of training, we surely don’t give someone a truck, binoculars and a citation booklet and say “go get ‘em.” A candidate will have a fairly intense few years of training and evaluation. Once the candidate passes the initial testing and evaluation, they are sent the POST academy in Meridian, Idaho for 10 weeks. Following the successful completion of the POST academy they are assigned to training officers across the state to complete a 10-week Field Evaluation Training Program.

Does it still sound like the job for you? Contact our Assistant Chief, Greg Wooten @ [email protected] or call 208-334-3736.

Leave no Child Inside 

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Author info

Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

Tagged as:

education, On the Game Trail, Idaho Conservation Officers, Randy Sullivan

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