Wildlife control operator classes and FAQ

A wildlife control operator (WCO) is a professional trapper certified by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to charge a fee for handling nuisance wildlife issues. A WCO is not an employee of WDFW, but an individual who has completed the department’s requirements for certification and helps to prevent or control wildlife-related damage. Without a valid certificate, it is unlawful to charge a fee to trap, harass, or control nuisance wildlife on another person’s property.

WCO certification classes are held in both Olympia and Spokane twice each year. Classes in Olympia are conducted at the headquarters' office in the Natural Resources Building in early March and early August each year. Classes in Spokane are held at the Region 1 office in the conference room in late March and late August each year. Registration for these classes opens approximately four weeks before the class dates.

Online WCO class registration

This is to inform you that the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will be providing an online Wildlife Control Operator course on Thursday, March 11, 2021. The class will be held as an online Teams meeting.

This class is only for those who are already in possession of their Washington State Trappers Certification. You must enter your Trapper Certification number on the registration form. Every person performing WCO outlined activities for compensation must first obtain a Washington Trappers Certification by passing the Trapper Test. Find study materials for the Trapper Test.

All class participants must also provide documentation showing a minimum of two years’ experience that demonstrates the knowledge and ability to control wildlife species causing conflict or property damage. This documentation must be sent to specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov after registering online and no later than Monday, March 1, 2021 in order to remain on the class roster. Please visit the following link for more information on what information can be used to document experience: WCO Requirements.

If you would like to register for the course, please click the link below and provide the requested information. All reservation requests must be received by Monday, March 1, 2021 along with the minimum of two years’ experience documentation.

Register Now

You will be asked to include your name, current address, current phone number, email, and Trapper Certification number. For businesses with multiple employees, please enroll each person individually. This information will be used to enter you into the database and for verification purposes. Upon completion of the enrollment page, you will receive a confirmation email.

Each attendee will be required to pay the enrollment fee of fifty dollars ($50) for certification training/education prior to class attendance. Once a person completes WCO certification training, he or she must apply for the certificate in order to charge a fee and harass, kill, trap, release, or dispatch animals causing damage to private property.

Important:  Payments are accepted via check or money order and should be made out to WDFW Conflict Section. Payments must be received by Monday, March 8, 2021.

Please send your payments to:

Attention: WDFW – Wildlife Conflict
PO Box 43141
Olympia, WA 98503

For more information, please visit the FAQ at the bottom of this page.

Olympia WCO class registration

WDFW provides Wildlife Control Operator courses in early March and early August at the Natural Resources Building in Olympia from 10 a.m. to approximately 2:30 p.m. in room 175 on the first floor.

Important: Upon entering the Natural Resources Building, please obtain a quest pass from the check-in booth. Then go to your left to the Licensing counter to pay your $50 training fee. Signs along the main hallway will direct to the classroom.

This class is only for those who are already in possession of their Washington State Trappers Certification. You must enter your trapper certification number on the registration form. Also, please provide proof of trapper certification upon the day of training. Every person performing WCO-outlined activities for compensation must first obtain a Washington Trappers Certification by passing the Trapper Test. Study materials for the Trapper Test can be found at the trapper education webpage.

All class participants must also provide documentation showing a minimum of two years’ experience demonstrating the knowledge and ability to control wildlife species causing conflict or property damage. This documentation must be sent to specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov as soon as possible after registering online and no later than 11:45 p.m. on the Monday prior to the class in order to remain on the class roster. Please see the FAQ on this page to learn what information can be used to document experience.

If you would like to register for the course, please click the link below and provide the requested information. All reservation requests must be received by 11:45 p.m. on the Monday prior to the class.

Register now

You will be asked to include your name, current address, current phone number, email, and Trapper Certification number. For businesses with multiple employees, please enroll each person individually. This information will be used to enter you into the database and for verification purposes. Upon completion of the enrollment page, you will receive a confirmation email.

Each attendee will be required to pay a $50 enrollment fee for certification training/education prior to class attendance. Payment must be made on the day of training at the Olympia office. Please arrive at least 15 minutes early to pay the fee before class. Once a person completes WCO certification training, he or she must apply for the certificate in order to charge a fee and harass, kill, trap, release, or dispatch animals causing damage to private property.

For more information, please visit the FAQ on this page.

Spokane WCO class registration

WDFW provides Wildlife Control Operator courses in late March and late August at the WDFW Region 1 office in Spokane from 10 a.m. to approximately 2:30 p.m., in the main conference room on the first floor.

This class is only for those who are already in possession of their Washington State Trappers Certification. You must enter your trapper certification number on the registration form. Also, please provide proof of trapper certification upon the day of training. Every person performing WCO-outlined activities for compensation must first obtain a Washington Trappers Certification by passing the Trapper Test. Study materials for the Trapper Test can be found at the trapper education webpage.

All class participants must also provide documentation showing a minimum of two years’ experience demonstrating the knowledge and ability to control wildlife species causing conflict or property damage. This documentation must be sent to specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov as soon as possible after registering online and no later than 11:45 p.m. on the Monday prior to the class in order to remain on the class roster. Please see the FAQ on this page to learn what information can be used to document experience.

If you would like to register for the course, please click the link below and provide the requested information. All reservation requests must be received by 11:45 p.m. on the Monday prior to the course.

Register now

You will be asked to include your name, current address, current phone number, email, and Trapper Certification number. For businesses with multiple employees, please enroll each person individually. This information will be used to enter you into the database and for verification purposes. Upon completion of the enrollment page, you will receive a confirmation email.

Each attendee will be required to pay a $50 enrollment fee for certification training/education prior to class attendance. Payment must be made on the day of training via check only. Please arrive at least 15 minutes early to pay the fee before class. Once a person completes WCO certification training, he or she must apply for the certificate in order to charge a fee and harass, kill, trap, release, or dispatch animals causing damage to private property.

For more information, please visit the FAQ on this page.

Frequently asked questions

If you are a WCO, or you are interested in becoming a WCO, please review the following answers to frequently asked questions on a variety of key issues.

Where can I get more information on what it is like to be a WCO?

To see if becoming a WCO is right for you, see "Choosing a career in Wildlife Damage Control."

What are the certification requirements for a WCO?

Per WAC 220-440-100, the following items are required to become a WCO:

  1. Must be 18 years of age.
  2. Must pass the Washington State Trapper Education Exam with a minimum passing score of 90%.
  3. Possess a minimum of two years' experience that demonstrates the knowledge and ability to control wildlife species causing conflict or property damage. Methods by which you can document experience must include one of the following, but are not limited to:
    • Possess a trapper's license for two years.
    • Provide a letter of recommendation from a currently certified WCO or trapper, documenting two years' experience.
    • Provide evidence of employment in the wildlife abatement field for two years.
    • Provide a written statement verifying you are currently working with a certified WCO and have done so for two years.
    • OR other method as identified by the department.
  4. Must be legally eligible to possess a firearm. If you have been charged with a felony or domestic violence conviction in the past including, but not limited to, convictions under RCW 9.41, your firearm possession rights must have been restored.
  5. Must not have within the last three years:
    • More than one finding of "paid" or "committed," as final disposition, for an infraction under RCW 77.15.
    • OR a conviction for a fish and wildlife crime under RCW 77.15.
  6. Pay a $50 enrollment fee at the time of certification training/education.
  7. Complete and pass the agency's WCO certification course and submit an application for consideration to become a WCO after course completion.

Note: WDFW will conduct a criminal history background check to verify requirements 4 and 5 listed above. 

How do I obtain my State Trapper certification?

Among other requirements, WCO applicants must complete the WDFW trapper education training or take the written examination on their own and achieve a minimum passing score of 90% on the Trapper Education exam to receive the Washington trapper certification. If you are interested in taking a classroom course, visit the Washington State Trapper's Association website to determine the next available class.

If you want to study for the test on your own and take the test at a WDFW regional office, please visit the following link to obtain a downloadable Trapper Student Manual and Study Guide and contact information for the WDFW regional and headquarters offices (Trapper Education Home Study Option). You first must contact the headquarters or regional office to schedule a date and time to take the test.

When, where, and how are WCO certification classes held?

WCO certification classes are held in both Olympia and Spokane twice each year. Classes in Olympia are conducted at the headquarters' office in the Natural Resources Building in early March and early August each year. Classes in Spokane are held at the Region 1 office in the conference room in late March and late August each year.

Approximately 6 weeks before the class date, a link to sign up for the class will be made available at this webpage. Class details and times will be provided during the sign-up process. Because class sizes are limited at each location and are first-come, first-served, interested parties must sign up online to confirm a seat for the class. Classes are approximately four to five hours long.

Each student must pass a WCO Exam provided at the end of class, with a minimum passing score of 90%. Note that each student must pay a $50 enrollment fee on the day of the training, just prior to the start of class. Addresses to each of the locations are:

Olympia Spokane

Natural Resources Building
Room 175
1111 Washington St. SE
Olympia, WA 98501
360-902-2200

Region 1 Office
Conference Room
2315 North Discovery Place
Spokane Valley, WA 99216-1566
(509) 892-1001

Specific exam rooms are subject to change, so please check for signs at the location.

How do I provide documentation showing I have two years' experience working with nuisance wildlife?

WAC 220-440-100(1b) requires that a person possess a minimum of two years' experience that demonstrates the knowledge and ability to control wildlife species causing conflict or property damage prior to taking a WCO course. For a complete list of acceptable documentation, please see "What are the requirements for getting certified as a WCO?"above.

During the online sign up process, you will be prompted to upload your documentation and must do so before you can confirm a seat in the class. Prior to the class date, WDFW will examine and verify the acceptability of your documentation. If it is not acceptable, you will be notified and your name removed from the class roster.

I have completed and passed a WCO course. How do I get my WCO certificate?

Once you have completed the required training, you must fill out an application. This application must be submitted to WDFW to begin the processing of your certification. The application is available online, or you can request an application via email at specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov or phone at 360-902-2515. WDFW will verify that you meet the requirements listed above by examining all provided documentation and conducting a criminal history background check. If you satisfy all the requirements, a certificate will be sent to you by email or standard mail, depending on your preference. Certificates are good for three years from the date of issuance and all certifications will be issued to you as an individual. Persons working for a wildlife control company will need to provide their employer with a copy of their certification.

What is the cost for WCO certification?

There is currently a $50 certification fee, payable at the time of the certification course. A WCO can apply to renew their WCO certification when the certificate expires. There is currently no fee to apply for certification renewal.

How long is a WCO certificate valid?

A WCO certificate is valid for three years from the date of issuance. The beginning and expiration dates are listed on each certificate. It is the responsibility of each WCO to be aware of these dates and apply for renewal when necessary. The application is available online, or you can request an application via email at specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov or phone at 360-902-2515. If you do not renew your certificate within three (3) years after your certificate expiration date, you will be deleted from our records and will have to repeat the WCO course if you wish to be recertified. Remember, it is unlawful to trap, harass, or otherwise control wildlife on the property of another for a fee without a valid WCO certification.

My WCO certificate has expired. How do I renew it?

To renew, you'll have to submit a new WCO certification application. The application is available online, or you can request an application via email at specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov or phone at 360-902-2515. There is currently no fee involved with certificate renewal. WDFW will conduct a criminal history background check for each certificate renewal. If the WCO meets all current WDFW requirements, a new certificate will be issued.

What state laws and rules are important for me to know as a WCO?

WCOs are responsible for knowing and adhering to all applicable Federal and State laws pertaining to the capture, trapping, and handling of nuisance wildlife. WCOs should regularly review these laws for changes and updates. Washington State laws and rules pertaining to wildlife damage control can be found in: RCW 77.36, WAC 220-418 and WAC 220-440.

What animals may I trap, and what types of traps are allowed?

Currently, the certificate only allows a WCO to help resolve wildlife conflict issues involving specific small game/furbearer species and unclassified wildlife. WCOs are not certified to handle nuisance issues involving deer, elk, cougar, bear, moose, wolf, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, turkeys, or protected or endangered wildlife.

Per WAC 220-440-110, WCOs may harass and control (non-contact methods such as hazing) or trap and euthanize the following small game/furbearer species when causing damage to private property: raccoon, fox, bobcat, beaver, muskrat, mink, river otter, weasel, hare, and cottontail rabbits. Additionally, WCOs may harass and control or trap and euthanize predatory birds [as defined in WAC 220-400-030] and unclassified wildlife, such as eastern gray squirrels, yellow-bellied marmot, coyotes, and nutria, which are causing private property damage.

If a WCO encounters a nuisance wildlife situation involving a species not listed above, including badger or martin, they should contact their Regional District Biologist to request advice and assistance. When in doubt about any species, always defer to your Regional District Biologist for assistance. Please visit the following link to contact your Regional Office: WDFW Regional Offices.

WCOs are professional trappers. Per WAC 220-440-110, certified WCOs may trap authorized nuisance wildlife using either live traps OR body-gripping traps (only allowed with a special trapping permit, RCW 77.15.192) year-round. Body-gripping traps may not be used for seasonal furbearer or recreational trapping and are permitted only under circumstances involving wildlife damage and if the WCO has applied for and received a Special Trapping Permit.

Body-gripping traps are defined in WAC 220-417-040. Live traps and other non-lethal means must first be used to resolve or attempt to resolve wildlife damage issues. For more information on trapping wildlife, visit the following trapping wildlife link. If these techniques do not solve a wildlife damage problem, a person may apply for a Special Trapping Permit. A Special Trapping Permit allows the use of specific body-gripping traps, and permittees must adhere to all conditions of the permit. The application for a Special Trapping Permit can be obtained at Special Trapping Permits. Completed applications should be emailed to specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov, faxed to 360-902-2162, OR mailed to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Attn: Wildlife Conflict Program, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA. 98501-1091. 

What is a Special Trapping Permit?

A Special Trapping Permit allows a person to use specific body-gripping traps (WAC 232-12-142) to resolve wildlife nuisance issues, but only under certain circumstances. Body-gripping traps may not be used for recreational trapping. Per RCW 77.15.194, the only body-gripping traps allowed under a Special Trapping Permit are the Conibear-type trap submerged in water, the padded leg-hold trap, or a non-strangling type foot snare.

Live traps and other non-lethal means must first be used by a WCO to resolve or attempt to resolve wildlife damage issues. If these techniques do not solve a wildlife damage problem, the WCO then may apply to use body-gripping traps. The WCO must apply for and be issued a Special Trapping Permit and adhere to all conditions of the permit before the use of body-gripping traps is allowed. Special Trapping Permit applications can be obtained at Special Trapping Permits. Completed applications should be emailed to specialtrapping@dfw.wa.gov, faxed to 360-902-2162, OR mailed to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Attn: Wildlife Conflict Program, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA 98501-1091.

A Special Trapping Permit Report Form must be submitted within 10 days after the permit expires (WAC 220-417-040), regardless of whether trapping or harvest of animals occurred or not. A WCO may retain the fur of an animal trapped under a Special Trapping Permit, as long as the WCO has a valid Washington State Trapper's license and retention of the fur is for personal use or educational purposes which do not result in retail sale or commerce (WAC 220-417-040). You may not sell a fur acquired under a Special Trapping Permit.

What do I do with animals that I have trapped while working as a WCO?

All animals trapped by a WCO must be released on-site or euthanized and properly disposed of, per WAC 220-440-050. A firearm may be used to euthanize a trapped animal. Air guns do not meet the definition of a firearm (RCW 9.41.010) and are prohibited for the euthanasia of trapped wildlife. If you euthanize an animal, you must use humane methods to do so. Inhumane and unacceptable methods of euthanasia include live burial, freezing a live animal, or drowning an animal (the exception is a legal killing set sometimes used by trappers). Widely accepted methods for euthanasia set by the American Veterinarian Medical Association include, but are not limited to:

  • Carbon monoxide (CO) or carbon dioxide (CO2) supplied to a chamber from a compressed gas cylinder (small and medium sized animals).
  • A shot to the head from a firearm (small and medium sized animals; check local firearm ordinances).

A WCO may not release wildlife outside of the property boundary where it was captured without a permit from WDFW or dispose of such wildlife without the consent of the property owner where wildlife is to be disposed (WAC 220-440-110).

A WCO may retain the fur of an animal trapped using non-body gripping traps during the general trapping season, as long as the WCO has a valid Washington State Trapper's license. Per WAC 220-417-030, the fur of any animal trapped under a Special Trapping Permit may only be retained by the WCO as long as the WCO has a valid Washington State Trapper's license and retention of the fur is for personal use or educational purposes which do not result in retail sale or commerce. You may not sell a fur acquired under a Special Trapping Permit. All non-target or threatened or endangered species should be released unharmed upon discovery, if possible. If a protected or endangered species is accidentally trapped and dies or requires euthanasia, the incident must be reported to WDFW within 24 hours to WILDCOMM (1-877-933-9847) or the nearest Regional Office.

Do I need a trapper's license to conduct work as a WCO?

You are not required to purchase and carry a valid trapping license to conduct business as a WCO (WAC 220-440-060). However, all animals trapped by a WCO that does not have a valid trapping license must be released on-site or euthanized and properly disposed of, per WAC 220-440-090. If a WCO wants to retain the fur of an animal trapped using non-body gripping traps during the general trapping season, the WCO must have a valid Washington State Trapper's license. Per WAC 220-417-030, the fur of any animal trapped under a Special Trapping Permit may only be retained by the WCO as long as the WCO has a valid Washington State Trapper's license and retention of the fur is for personal use or educational purposes which do not result in retail sale or commerce. You may not sell a fur acquired under a Special Trapping Permit.

May I hunt and shoot wildlife using a firearm while conducting WCO-related activities?

No. WCOs are professional trappers. You may only use a firearm to euthanize trapped animals (WAC 220-417-030). Per WAC 220-440-110, certified WCOs may trap authorized nuisance wildlife using either live traps OR body-gripping traps (only allowed with a special trapping permit, RCW 77.15.192) year-round. Remember, a WCO who fails to comply with department statutes or rules as required by his or her WCO certification and associated permit may be subject to prosecution under RCW 77.15.750.

Must I carry a copy of my WCO certificate with me while conducting WCO-related activities?

Yes.

WAC 220-440-110 states that it is unlawful to trap, harass, or otherwise control wildlife on the property of another for a fee without a valid WCO certification. Carrying your certificate and having it available for inspection is a condition of your permit. The certificate allows you to prove to an inquiring wildlife officer or customer that you have a valid certificate and are lawfully allowed to address specific wildlife species causing damage to private property. When you receive your permit, please read the conditions of the permit and make sure to follow them. Per WAC 220-440-250, failure to comply with the conditions of WCO certification or permits is a misdemeanor pursuant to RCW 77.15.750. 

Do I need to submit a report for my WCO activities?

Yes. All WCOs must submit an Annual Report each year listing all wildlife damage control activity, even if the WCO did not trap any wildlife (WAC 220-440-130). The report must be received or postmarked on or before April 20th each year, listing all activity from April 1 of the previous year through March 31 of the current reporting year. For example, your 2017 Annual Report would include all WCO-related activity, regardless if you did not trap, from April 1, 2016 through March 31, 2017. Failure to submit a report may result in the department revoking the WCO's certification and permit and suspending the person's right to future certification and permits, per WAC 220-440-110.

If you apply for and receive a Special Trapping Permit, you must submit a Special Trapping Report Form no later than 10 days after your Special Trapping Permit expires, even if no animals were trapped. Failure to submit a report for a Special Trapping Permit is unlawful, per WAC 220-417-040. Both the WCO Annual Report form and the Special Trapping report form can be found at Trapping Forms.