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 currently being held online twice a year, typically in March and August. Registration for these classes opens approximately four weeks before the class dates.
Online WCO class registration
There are no scheduled courses at this time. Our next anticipated training will be held in spring 2024.
Olympia WCO class registration
There are no scheduled courses at this time.
Spokane WCO class registration
There are no scheduled courses at this time.
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:
- Must be 18 years of age.
- Must complete the Washington State Trapper Education Exam with a passing score.
- 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.
- 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.
- Must not have within the last three years:
- Pay a $50 enrollment fee at the time of certification training/education.
- 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 passing score 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 currently being offered online twice a year, typically in March and August.
Approximately 6 weeks before the class date, a link to sign up for the class will be made available at this webpage. Class details, access, and times will be provided during the sign-up process. Interested parties must register online to confirm a virtual 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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com or phone at 360-902-2515. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.