Wildlife Law Enforcement Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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A bachelor's or associate degree in wildlife law enforcement can lead a career as a wildlife law enforcement officer. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your training.
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Associate and Bachelor's Degrees in Wildlife Law Enforcement at a Glance

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), wildlife law enforcement is a relatively small subset of the law enforcement field. The field as a whole is expected to experience a slower-than-average seven percent employment growth over the 2010-2020 decade (www.bls.gov). To work as a fish or game warden, the BLS states that you will likely need a college degree in natural resources management, biology or a similar field. Law enforcement experience might also be beneficial.

Law enforcement careers may also have fitness, citizenship and age requirements, and may require you to undergo background checks. Although there may be some exceptions, law enforcement officers generally must be at least 21 years of age, and less than 37 years old when referred to the department.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People interested in making a career in law enforcement, specializing in outdoor work Same as with the associate degree, adding those who are looking to work at the Federal level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Fish and game warden ($50,000)*
- Law enforcement officer ($54,000)*
- Same as with the associate degree, plus:
- Law enforcement supervisor ($78,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full time or 2 years after associate
Common Graduation Requirements - 20-25 courses, approximately half in law enforcement topics with supplemental courses in wildlife law and conservation Generally, a 2-year law enforcement degree, plus:
- 20-25 courses completing a bachelor's program (2+2) with a focus on environment and conservation topics
Prerequisites -American citizenship
-Some jurisdictions may have additional requirements
-High school diploma
Same as with associate degree program, or completed associate degree program for 2+2
Online Availability Some Some courses may be available online

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree in Wildlife Law Enforcement

Students interested in becoming wildlife law enforcement officers may either find a program specifically designed for this need, or attend a school that offers a law enforcement degree and a minor concentration in wildlife topics. An associate degree is generally the minimum degree needed for becoming a police officer at the local or state level. Completion of a law enforcement associate degree with a minor concentration in wildlife or conservation prepares students for both wildlife-related positions and fills the more common requirements for police officer positions. Interested students should note that the more plentiful positions in local departments may have lower wages (www.bls.gov).

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Students can begin their law enforcement careers as police officers after two years of training.
  • A career-focused Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree may be a better fit with some students than a more liberal arts-focused Associate of Arts degree.
  • A completed associate degree prepares students to enter a bachelor's degree program at a later date while allowing immediate entry into the workforce.

Cons

  • Some positions require completion of a bachelor's degree program.
  • Preparation for a law enforcement career may include completion of a state-certified program. This might limit the transferability of some degrees.
  • Later stages of career growth may require a 4-year degree, and because of police officers' work schedules, completing these programs while employed may be challenging.

Courses and Training Requirements

Course requirements generally fall into two categories: those focused on law enforcement, and those that prepare students for wildlife-related aspects of the career. Law enforcement course topics might include:

  • Community relations
  • Criminal investigation
  • Criminal law, statutes and traffic law
  • Drug and alcohol education
  • Emergency response and first responder
  • Interpersonal communication
  • Introduction to criminal justice
  • Procedures for criminal evidence
  • Sociology
  • Writing reports

Courses addressing the wildlife side of the program could cover such topics as:

  • Interpretation of the environment
  • Law and natural resources
  • Training for park rangers
  • Wilderness field skills
  • Wildland recreation management

Online Degree & Course Info

Some schools offer training for police officers that is available either partially or completely online. Students should check to make certain that this training is valid in their expected area of residence, as training programs and requirements can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some courses, such as those covering basic law enforcement skills and wilderness skills, may need to be taken in a face-to-face setting.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Those interested in wildlife law enforcement should strengthen their resumes with relevant wilderness experience. These positions are hands-on, and have both physical and academic requirements. Work experience with the groups of people most often encountered, including both hunters and tourists, will demonstrate a deeper understanding of the issues involved, and prepare wildlife officer candidates for the critical social aspects of these roles. Additionally, wildlife law enforcement positions may require a range of modes of transport in remote areas remote, so familiarity with non-standard modes of transport, from hiking to boating to horseback, can be excellent preparation.

Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Law Enforcement

Bachelor's degrees in law enforcement commonly follow the '2+2' pattern, where students spend the first two years in a law enforcement preparation associate degree program before transferring to complete a 4-year program at an associated university. For those looking to enter wildlife law enforcement, completing the 2-year law enforcement training before moving on to a school that offers an appropriate wilderness-related degree may be a viable option. Some departments are beginning to expect 4-year degrees for some competitive positions, and most federal-level law enforcement positions expect 4-year degree program completion as well.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Completion of a bachelor's program prepares police officers for later career growth, as supervisory positions may require a bachelor's degree.
  • The completion of a bachelor's degree program can increase marketability inside and outside of law enforcement.
  • Growth of positions in the field of wildlife law enforcement is expected to be slower than in other areas of law enforcement, and a bachelor's degree may increase an applicant's competitiveness.

Cons

  • Completing a bachelor's degree means more time and money spent before entering the job market.
  • Student's choices of 4-year schools are limited to those who have '2+2' agreements with law enforcement associate degree programs.
  • After completing the first two years of the training programs, students then spend two years developing other aspects of their careers in a very different environment.

Courses and Training Requirements

The law enforcement educational expectations for wildlife officers who are completing their bachelor's degrees are usually completed in the first two years of the program and are similar or identical to the expectations of law enforcement associate degree programs. For students earning their bachelor's degrees, courses could include both practical and theoretical skills relating to animals and the environment, such as biology, chemistry, forestry and zoology.

Online Course Info

At this time, there are no 2+2 law enforcement training programs that are designed with significant online components. However, students should check with their institution's registrars to see to what extent courses completed through online programs at other schools may be transferred.

Stand Out with This Degree

Especially during the last two years of the 2+2 program, when law enforcement training has already been completed, students can begin developing the skills necessary for their long-term career goals outside the classroom as well as inside. This can include finding and pursuing opportunities for both wildlife and law enforcement aspects and skills, and developing practical skills through internships or even law enforcement positions.

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