Category Archives: Law enforcement

People behind the Mission: Federal Wildlife Officer is Recognized for Excellence

Samantha Fleming #ScienceWoman

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is fueled by the dedicated employees that make conservation happen on the ground. Samantha Fleming, a Federal Wildlife Officer at Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland was recently recognized as the 2014 Northeast Region Refuge Officer of the Year for her outstanding law enforcement service and for her willingness to lead projects that extend beyond her duties.

Patuxent Research Refuge is located within the Baltimore-Washington Corridor, an area home to nine million people.  “Patuxent is challenging because it is an urban refuge,” Fleming says. “We are 20 minutes from D.C. and 20 minutes from Baltimore, so we get an influx of people.”

With approximately 200,000 people visiting the refuge annually, visitor safety is one of Samantha’s top priorities. As a Federal Wildlife Officer, Samantha is the face of the Service to the visiting public. “It’s important to have relationships with visitors,” she says. “The better you know them, the better they feel about the Refuge, the safer they feel on the Refuge.”

In 2014, Samantha handled 1, 416 field contacts, worked on several high profile cases, developed partnerships with law enforcement agencies in the area, and often acted as the first responder when incidents occurred near the Refuge.  In addition to her exceptional performance as a Federal Wildlife Officer, Samantha took on many of the roles and responsibilities of the Deputy Refuge Manager when the Refuge had a need. She also works as an active member of the Service Honor Guard, a team of National Wildlife Refuge System Uniformed Law Enforcement Officers who represent the Department of the Interior and the Service at ceremonial events.

I spoke with Samantha about how she became interested in a conservation career, her most memorable experiences with the Service and her advice for folks interested in pursuing a career as a Federal Wildlife Officer.

How did you get interested in conservation?

I have always had a love for the law and for animals. We would go camping when I was a kid every year and I would spend all my free time outside.  I started down the route towards being a veterinarian but realized that wasn’t my passion. Someone told me about a tiny college in Maine where I could study Conservation Law Enforcement. I started there and realized that was what I wanted to do. I found out about national wildlife refuges in my junior year and was excited that I could get paid to do what I love. I applied and told the interviewing panel that my bags were packed and I would move anywhere if they would hire me.

Samantha’s favorite thing about working for the Service: she can work in various places, climates, and cultures.

What do you consider the most rewarding part of your job as a Federal Wildlife Officer?

The most rewarding… that’s hard. I really enjoy when I see kids get excited about the outdoors, whether they are fishing, hunting, or watching wildlife. You can see this pure love in their eyes and you just want to capture that moment. I get paid to protect our resources and visitors in places where people want to vacation. If I do my job well enough, that resource will still be there when my grandchildren and their children start appreciating the outdoors.

What was your most memorable experience with the Service?

Currently, I have been serving on the Service Honor Guard since it started in 2010. In 2013, I was honored to be able to attend the memorial service for the Granite Mountain Hotshot crew that perished during the Yarnell Hill Fire. Of the crew, 19 died and only 1 person survived. I went to the service with 4 other members of the Honor Guard. It was an emotionally rough service to go through, but I was so honored to be able to represent the Service during this terrible time. It wasn’t long ago when the Service would not have been able to send the Honor Guard to this memorial, or any other, because it didn’t exist. By sending the Honor Guard to the memorial service, it showed all those who attended that the Service supports its sister agencies and the dangerous role of fire fighters. It will always stick with me for the memorial itself, and that the Service supports more than just its own employees.

Samantha has been serving on the Service Honor Guard since it started in 2010

Samantha has been serving on the Service Honor Guard since it started in 2010

What’s your favorite thing about working for Service?

I love the ability to have options. I have been stationed in two states that have offered me incredible experiences and I could move on to many more states if I choose. I have had the ability to work in the majority of the US through details or Honor Guard deployments and I have been able to meet amazing people who work for the Service. I love that I have the option to work in various places, climates, and cultures but still do the same job. It doesn’t matter where you go, you will always find people who are passionate about working for the Service. Our agency doesn’t look down on employees working in multiple places over their career, in fact, its encouraged. I like working for an agency that allows and supports me to move around to make me a better employee.

Any advice for folks considering a career as a Federal Wildlife Officer?

It’s a career that many want to have but few have the passion to pursue. I absolutely love my job because it offers me a challenge; it’s complex in nature, requires independence and above all a passion to do what is right. However, remember that your job is to protect against those who want to harm, therefore, this job can and will be dangerous at times.

The job and the route to the job can be challenging, but if it’s what you want, it’s definitely worth pursuing. Schedule ride-a-longs with Federal Wildlife Officers or state wardens to see and experience what the job really is. Reach out to these officers to ask questions. If you’re headed to college, pursue wildlife based degrees, such as environmental protection or conservation law enforcement. If this is what you really want to do down in your heart, push yourself to have the best resume out there. Most importantly, don’ tie yourself down to one spot; be willing to move to pursue your passion.

Credit: Bill O'Brian (USFWS)

Credit: Bill O’Brian (USFWS)

A day in the life of a federal wildlife officer

“Normally that would be a suspicious vehicle to me,” says Samantha Fleming as she patrols a Patuxent Research Refuge road that is closed to motorized traffic. “But it’s okay. That’s Bill Harms, a volunteer who’s collecting vegetation samples” for Patuxent’s herbarium.

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Federal wildlife officer Samantha Fleming embarks on a pre–dawn patrol of Patuxent Research Refuge in Maryland. Credit: Bill O’Brian/USFWS

Fleming, a federal wildlife officer at the Maryland refuge, knows its 12,841 acres and the people who frequent them like the back of her hand.

“It’s important to have relationships with visitors. Lots of times they’re your eyes and ears. They let you know what’s going on,” says Fleming. “The better you know them, the better they feel about the refuge, the safer they feel on the refuge” and the more likely they are to report something happening on the refuge. In addition to chatting up, checking on or nodding to visitors, she relies on the U.S. Park Police, county police and other law enforcement agencies for help. “I need all the support I can get,” she says.

“Patuxent is challenging because it is an urban refuge,” Fleming says. “We are 20 minutes from D.C. and 20 minutes from Baltimore, so we get an influx of people.” Another challenge is that the refuge has three separate tracts in two counties.

On this day, Fleming started on the North Tract, “where the majority of hunting and fishing goes on,” she says. “That’s our biggest challenge, trying to cover the 8,000 acres, which is small in comparison to most places, but there is such a diverse use up here and it’s so accessible to the public that we stay very, very busy.”

Next, she drove 20 minutes to the 2,540–acre South Tract, where the refuge visitor center is. “We had a rash of vehicle break–ins. We’ve had to update our camera system.” Today all was quiet, so she checked out Service land along Maryland Route 197, which bisects the refuge and is the scene of frequent auto accidents that result in refuge fence damage.

The Central Tract is why it’s called Patuxent Research Refuge. The tract houses the U.S. Geological Survey Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and endangered species/migratory bird facilities. The tract is generally closed to the public, but errant bicyclists, lost drivers and speeding delivery vehicles cause problems. With about 200 people from various agencies working on the refuge, issues regarding research permits and personnel matters arise, too. Everything in order on this Saturday, Fleming gassed up and headed back to the North Tract.

Fleming has been interested in the law and protecting animals since she was growing up near Boston. She enjoys being outside. She especially likes that—even though she’s on call pretty much 24/7—“no day is like any other day.”

And she loves seeing kids catch their first fish. “Sometimes they have to have their dad or mom help them pull the fish in because it’s so big, and they’ve got a smile that’s ear–to–ear. And you can tell right then and there they’re hooked,” she says. “Same thing with hunting.”

Back on the North Tract, she helped two young hunters measure wild turkeys they took and reminded them to report the kills to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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Fleming checks the hunting license of Patuxent Refuge visitor Christian Wilder. Credit: Bill O’Brian/USFWS

She also touched based with 10–year–old Sebastian Wilder. On this day, Sebastian did not bag a turkey. But his father, Christian, was grateful for the opportunity.

“It’s hard for me to sum up what the refuge means to me,” Christian Wilder said, “because I’ve been coming here since I was younger than my son is. I look forward to him growing up here, my daughter growing up here and hopefully their children growing up here.”

He said he and Sebastian will be back next year for the youth turkey hunt.

Samantha Fleming likely will be there, too, checking them in, checking out their harvest and, as always, checking on the refuge.

This story was contributed by Bill O’Brian, a Service writer and editor, and was originally published in the January/February 2014 issue of Refuge Update.

Working with the U.S. Coast Guard to provide safe boating opportunities

We continue celebrating National Fishing and Boating Week, this time with a post about boating.on_board

Christopher Husgen, federal wildlife officer at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, tells how he is partnering with the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure safe boating.

I have worked the marshes at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge for over 17 years, but it is my love for hunting waterfowl and fishing that has really taught me to navigate the marsh. While I have been hunting for about ten years now, it wasn’t until I came to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that I even learned to hunt. An old-timer who hunts on the refuge gave me a few clues and I’ve learned a lot on my own. Now I’m kind of the go-to guy for waterfowl hunting at the refuge.

I was able to put that knowledge and experience to good use recently, when I took several boat operators from the U.S. Coast Guard, Merrimack River Station, out on the refuge marsh to learn their way around.

chrishusgen with USCG

Christopher Husgen (third from left), refuge law enforcement officer at Parker River National Wildlife Refuge in Massachusetts, partnered with U.S. Coast Guard boat operators to make sure they could navigate the refuge marsh in case of an emergency.

The Coast Guard boat operators do not often patrol the waters of the refuge marshes, as they are not familiar with them, and a mishap of bumping the bottom can hinder their future boat operation opportunities.

I approached the Coast Guard and provided an orientation several years ago, and this past spring, I conducted two more training sessions. I took them out in a refuge boat, and toured the backwaters, pointing out hazards, and shallow spots. We’ll return to the marsh in their boat and I’ll work with them to plot the critical hazards on their electronics, helping them to become familiar with the refuge marshes should they ever need to navigate them.

Even though we have different jurisdiction, we have worked together during a number of incidents, ranging from rescuing kayakers caught in treacherous waters to catching poachers. Over the years there have been many times we have called the Coast Guard to come to the aid of a boater off shore. They have also called us to look on the beaches and marshes for missing or stranded boaters or paddlers. On the most recent meeting, we worked together to provide training for three of their new boat operators to learn to tow a boat. I hope to not need a tow any time soon, but it’s good to know they will be able to do it properly.

I really hope to strengthen the communication and cooperation between our agencies to better serve the boating public. And should we ever need assistance on the water, I know we have a partner in the U.S. Coast Guard.

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The Service and the U.S. Coast Guard are working together to provide safe experiences for the boating public.