The Work: State and federally employed special agents (most punch the clock for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the Environmental Protection Agency) spend their days incognito, tracking and busting violators of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Agents do everything from stinging renegade taxidermists to foiling coral smugglers to cruising airports with contraband-sniffing German shepherds.
Time Outside: 25—75 percent, depending on the post. "The criminals don't come to you," says Special Agent Doug Goessman, who tracks grizzly poachers for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Montana. "You've got to take your spotting scope, your video camera, your binoculars, and get out there and beat the bushes."
Payback: $21,000 a year for entry-level agents with previous law-enforcement experience; $60,000 for senior agents.
Prerequisites: Start with a B.S. in criminal justice from a school like Southern Illinois University—Carbondale (618-453-2121; www.siu.edu/~ajsiuc). Once hired, you'll be taught high-speed pursuit driving, interrogation, federal conservation laws, and the limits of your own stamina: Flunk the physical evaluation battery—20 push-ups in two minutes, for starters—and you're out.
Networking: The Federal Wildlife Officers Association (www.fwoa.org) and the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (202-624-7890; www.sso.org/iafwa) are must-surf Web sites for job openings.
Peon to Pro: Expect to spend at least five years in the field before making senior agent, and at least 15 years for top billing: chief of law enforcement. * Drudge Factor: Rummaging through cargo loads of reptile-skin boots, live tropical fish, and caviar at an international customs booth.
Outlook: Dog-eat-dog. With only 230 special-agent positions in the Fish and Wildlife Service, competition is stiff. In 1998, 980 applicants wrangled over 15 openings.