Category Archives: Law enforcement

From professional baseball to federal law enforcement: Officer of the Year Jay Perez



Jay Perez (right) receives Refuge Officer of the Year Award from Scott Kahan (left), Regional Refuge System Chief, Credit: USFWS

This week is National Police Week and on this occasion we’d like to shine a spotlight on the Northeast Region Refuge Officer of the Year Jay Perez. Officer Perez is a federal wildlife officer serving the Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge and other national wildlife refuges in Maine. He  was recognized for his notable efforts to protect a witness who was being threatened for providing critical information to law enforcement in a 2017 case of unlawful trapping on refuge lands.

Today, we’ll hear from Officer Perez about how he became interested in a wildlife law enforcement career, how his work impacts wildlife and conservation, his most memorable achievements so far and why he loves his job.

What is your background? Did you always want to pursue a career in conservation?

I fostered a love for the outdoors, especially hunting and fishing, growing up in Seymour, Connecticut. After graduating high school, I played minor league baseball as a catcher for the Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies. I went on to play professional baseball for three years before deciding I wanted to pursue a career in conservation law enforcement. I knew this career change would allow me to work in the outdoors and be closer to my true passions of hunting and fishing. I went on to attend Unity College in Maine where I received a degree in Conservation Law Enforcement and was lucky enough to work as a law enforcement intern for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the former Student Career Experience Program.


Officer Perez enjoys coming home from a long days work and being welcomed home by his son, Credit: Lori Perez

In what ways does your work impact wildlife and conservation?

Federal wildlife officers enforce laws and rules that are designed to benefit wildlife, protect people, and conserve public land. Without enforcing laws that protect wildlife it would be difficult for other programs within the Service to do their jobs. I’ve learned it is essential to provide enforcement and education to help other programs within the agency function properly.


Officer Perez (center) teaching a deer decoy demonstration at Unity College in Maine, Credit: Lori Perez

What do you consider the most rewarding part of your job as a federal wildlife officer?

The most rewarding part of being a federal wildlife officer is seeing people enjoying the outdoors and abiding by the rules and regulations set in place, without any law enforcement engagement. I enjoy my job because I get to see kids hunting or fishing and overall enjoying the outdoors. Many of the kids who visit our refuges look up to law enforcement officers and wish to become one or even a game warden someday. This is a truly humbling thing to witness for me.

Are there any moments you’re particularly proud of?

I am particularly proud of the recent conviction on a case that helped me earn the Officer of the Year Award. The reason I am so proud of this is because the outcome affected so many people. It gave closure and security to the witness who came forward to the authorities with evidence and was later threatened by the defendant in the case. The case helped build partnerships between many of the law enforcement agencies in Maine.  It hopefully will stop the harassment that many of the residents in the area had endured for many years. Finally, it will protect the wildlife in the area from being illegally killed because the person convicted may not possess a firearm for the rest of his life.

Officer Perez has worked for the Service as a Federal Wildlife Officer for 12 years.  We’re really lucky to have him, and so many others like him, working for the Service.

Click here for more information on federal law enforcement careers.

Recognizing Officer John Ross

Today we’re giving a big shout out to John Ross who was recognized as the Service’s regional Federal Wildlife Officer of the Year in 2017. Ross, like his peers, enforces laws to keep refuge visitors safe and to protect wildlife. He is the first law enforcement officer to receive this regional recognition twice.

Ross has worked at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge for 12 of his 19 years of service. The refuge spans 112,928 acres in Virginia and North Carolina, and, in addition to covering that area, he covers law enforcement needs at three other refuges in the region. Ross began his career at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, one of the country’s most visited refuges.

Map of Great Dismal Swamp NWR

Known for his team spirit and his ability to bring people together, Ross sets an “example of helping everyone on the staff with everything such as maintenance, visitor services, fire, forestry, and biological programs, all while maintaining the integrity of his own program.” said a colleague nominating Ross for the award.

Regional Chief of Refuge Law Enforcement, Gary Andres says Ross is an exemplary officer with the exceptional ability to work well with others, including his team. Ross’ duties are diverse and include training new officers entering the field from the police academy, serving as a critical incident stress mentor, working with state game wardens and other Service law enforcement agents on cases, running the refuge’s deer hunt, and many other things.

Congratulations, Officer Ross! And a special thank you to our regional law enforcement officers today and every day.

Animal encounters come with the territory when you’re a federal wildlife officer. One day Officer Ross was called upon to move a rattlesnake from a trash can, where it had found a warm spot to curl up. He secured the snake and put it in the backseat of his car. A little while later as he was driving, he saw in his rear view mirror that the snake was escaping the cage. Some quick thinking and a blast of the AC, and the snake retreated for the rest of the ride. In addition to snakes, Ross has moved alligators to more remote locations.

Nature Prevails

Is a rescue mission a success if there isn’t any rescue? For two weeks, a bald eagle with two of its toes caught in a foothold trap has eluded capture.

When the eagle was spotted flying around Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge with the trap in late April by Refuge Manager Keith Ramos, he and his staff launched a rescue attempt that would grow to involve tree climbers, a utility company, a buffet of carcasses as eagle lure, and even an industrial strength magnet. They were intent on freeing the bird, one of a pair nesting along the road at this remote refuge in the far eastern reaches of Maine. If they could catch the bird, it could be attended to by a wildlife veterinarian if necessary.

The eagle could still “fly powerfully,” said Ray Brown, refuge biologist, who spent many a cold hour hunkered in a portable blind watching and waiting for the bird to land where it could be caught. Spring thaw happens late in that neck of the woods and daytime temps hovered in the 30s.

On the second morning of the search, rescuers were dismayed to find the eagle hanging upside down in a tall white pine tangled by the trap around a branch. She wasn’t moving and was presumed dead. Intent on salvaging the bird, the rescue team – expanded to include biologists from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife – brought in a telescoping ladder and climbing equipment by canoe to reach the tree.

As they got closer, spirits lifted when the eagle moved. When a local climber, with assistance from refuge law enforcement officer Amanda Hardaswick, got within an arm’s length of the powerful animal, it broke free and flew away.

Nearly two weeks later, the chase is still on.

The eagle is presumed to be the female in the nesting pair because of her size and recognizable red and silver leg bands. For a number of days she continued to return to her mate, but continued to elude capture. The rescuers turned their ingenuity into higher gear.

  • When the eagle got tangled again on a nearby osprey nest platform, they called on the local power company, Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative. With a bucket truck and a net, they were optimistic, but she flew away again.
  • When the eagle appeared to be tangled in a hardwood tree, professional tree climbers from the Biodiversity Research Institute were called in, but the eagle escaped once again.
  • Traps were laid, baited with a deer carcass, dead fish, and even a goose, but no luck luring her to the ground where Ray was ready in the blind to deploy a rocket net.
  • An 80-pound industrial strength magnet was covered with deer hair in the hope that it would hold the trap, and the eagle, long enough to capture her.

No luck.

The eagle hadn’t been seen for a week, and a new female took up residence in the nest. Brown feathers in the newcomer’s tail were telltale signs that she is a younger bird. It began to seem unlikely that the trapped bird had survived.

Turns out she’s a survivor. The eagle reappeared this week, dirty and disheveled, but with no trap! The extent of injury to her toes remains to be seen, however she appears healthy considering her ordeal. Her first order of business? Kicking that newcomer out of the nest.

We want to mention that leg hold traps are used by trappers during regulated trapping seasons in Maine and just across the border in Canada. If the trap is retrieved, law enforcement officers may know more about its source to pursue that part of the eagle’s story.

Keith and his staff would like to thank the many individuals and organizations who have helped rescue the eagle including

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Charlie Todd, Erynn Call, Tom Schaeffer, Henry Jones, and Brittany Currier
Biodiversity Research Institute, Bill Hanson and Chris Persico
-Mark McCullough, USFWS
Eastern Maine Electric Cooperative
Cianbro Corporation
City of Calais Public Works and Fire Department
Avian Haven