Career as a Federal Wildlife Officer

Fish and Wildlife Service Honor Guard in full uniform and flags at on Capitol steps, Washington, DC.  USFWS photo

Protecting resources and people on our refuges is the fundamental responsibility of Federal Wildlife Officers (Officers). The mission of the Refuge Law Enforcement Program is to support the administration of the National Wildlife Refuge System through the management and protection of natural, historic and cultural resources, property, and people on lands and waters of our national wildlife refuges. Federal Wildlife Officers work in concert with their Federal, State, Tribal, and local counterparts to protect visitors and to conserve wildlife resources.


Federal Wildlife Officers are responsible for upholding federal laws and regulations that protect natural resources, the public, and employees. These are our objectives.

  • To protect refuge visitors and employees from disturbance or harm by others.
  • To assist visitors in understanding refuge laws, regulations, and the reasons for them.
  • To enhance the management and protection of fish and wildlife resources on refuges.
  • To ensure the legally prescribed, equitable use of fish and wildlife resources on refuges.
  • To obtain compliance with laws and regulations necessary for the proper administration, management, and protection of the National Wildlife Refuge System

An average day in the life of an Officer could include teaching youth how to fish, conducting a deer poaching investigation, meeting with State conservation officers to discuss an upcoming deer decoy operation, stopping and investigating a DUI (driving under the influence) on a refuge, assisting the refuge biologists with an elk population survey, backing up the local Sheriff’s Officer on a traffic stop, and then waking up in the middle of the night to head to a neighboring state to assist with search and rescue operations during a flood.

At refuges which are open for hunting and fishing, Officers legally conduct compliance checks and inspections of hunters, anglers, and other users for licenses, fish and wildlife, and the equipment used to take those animals. Officers help out occasionally in other management, educational or biological programs on refuges.

Federal Wildlife Officers work in a diverse array of locations from the Pacific Ocean, the West, the Southwestern Desert, the Prairie, the Great Lakes, the Caribbean Sea, and New England. And since the number of highly trained Federal Wildlife Officers is small, they routinely travel to different parts of the country to participate in details to assist other Federal Wildlife Officers and the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, U.S. Border Patrol, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and many more Federal and State law enforcement agencies.

Given the diverse landscapes and geographic locations that Federal Wildlife Officers work at, they need a wide variety of skills and abilities in order to successfully accomplish their job. Each refuge can be vastly different and each Officer’s job can vary greatly. This means that they could be patrolling our refuge lands, waters, trails, parking lots and visitor centers on foot, in a vehicle, on a boat, in an airplane, on an ATV, or on a snowmobile, to ensure that all laws and regulations are being followed. Follow the link to Federal Wildlife Officer Qualifications.

Federal Wildlife Officer at a Refuge with a tropical beach, turquoise water and blue sky.  USFWS photo