People behind the mission: Federal wildlife officer is recognized for excellence
Behind all of our conservation work, are dedicated employees making it happen. We recently recognized our 2013 Northeast Region Refuge Officer of the Year, Darin Dick, of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. At one of the busiest refuges in the Northeast, Darin works to ensure that the 1.5 million people that visit the refuge each year are having a safe and enjoyable time. Darin really goes the extra mile beyond helping wildlife- he lends an extra hand when necessary and works to make sure the job is really done. We’re really lucky to have him working with us! Today, we’ll hear from Darin about how he became interested in a conservation career, his most memorable achievements so far and his inspiration.
What is your background? Did you always want to pursue a career in conservation?
Growing up in a small town in western Pennsylvania, the outdoors have always been a very large part of my life. A stone’s throw away from the house I grew up in, were abundant amounts of woodland, farmland, and a large lake. Also, a short drive from home was the Allegheny National Forest, where I spent many hours hunting and fishing with my family. From an early age, I was taught to have a great respect for nature and the things it could provide to us and our lives.
I can remember from about the age of six, while tagging along with my father on hunting trips, seeing the Pennsylvania state game warden assigned to our county out and about during hunting season. I always thought to myself, that’s what I want to do someday. During my junior year in high school, I remember sitting in a class that was helping us decide on a potential career path. When filling out their required paperwork, I clearly remember writing game warden on the form. After high school, I attended Slippery Rock University (SRU) and studied parks and resource management. While attending SRU, I completed the seasonal law enforcement training program. During and after college, I had the opportunity to work with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources as well as the National Park Service in law enforcement capacities knowing that the experience would eventually help me reach my goal to become a game warden.
What do you consider the most rewarding part of your job as a federal wildlife officer?
When I begin to think about the rewarding parts of my job, I could make a lengthy list. With every career, there are undoubtedly going to be pros and cons. In my experience, there are far more pros than cons. First and foremost, I get to be outside. There are some mornings during waterfowl season when I don’t enjoy getting up at 3 a.m., but when I’m sitting on the water watching the sunrise, hearing volley after volley of shots in the distance, I can’t help but think, I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this. A second major benefit is the relationships I can make with others in the Service, various state, county, and local law enforcement officers, and the public we come into contact with on a daily basis.
Any moments you’re particularly proud of?
For me, pride is the direct result of hard work and dedication. This job can be difficult, requires long hours in inclement weather, missed time with loved ones, frustration with certain cases, we don’t always get nights and weekends off, and a lot of times success depends on factors outside of our control. But these factors were known up front. From an early age, I was taught the importance of hard work and taking pride in what you do. Pride comes in the form of making a good case, working a joint case with state, local, or county agencies, building a good rapport with the local communities, and putting my all into something and having it pay off. And the last thing I should mention- I’m proud of receiving the 2013 Northeast Federal Wildlife Officer of the Year Award. This is an honor, and given the caliber of officers that I am surrounded by, it is truly a humbling experience for me.
Advice for the newbies?
When it comes to giving advice to new officers, I believe the single most important point to this career is being willing to get out there, beat the brush, and work hard. It is also important to remember that in this line of work, generally speaking, 50 percent of the people we, as game wardens, come into contact with, have done something wrong and need to be dealt with accordingly. The other 50 percent of people we come into contact with, through compliance checks and consensual contacts, haven’t committed a single crime. Treat everyone fairly and respectfully regardless of the reason for the contact.
Also, make it a priority to build strong working relationships with the surrounding law enforcement agencies. Make yourself available to assist them whenever possible and you will get the same in return. Game wardens and other local law enforcement officers who have been working in an area for a length of time are a wealth of knowledge and can be very beneficial to aiding us in our jobs, but always be willing to meet them halfway. Be willing to establish a strong rapport with the local communities where you work, get your business card out there, and be willing to stop and chat with farmers, hunters, fishermen, watermen, and others whenever the opportunity presents itself. You will be surprised what these general contacts can produce in the way of information and what it can do to change peoples’ perspectives of you. Most importantly, be safe, go home at the end of each shift, and love what you do.
Darin has been an officer at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge for seven years.