Tag Archives: federal wildlife officer

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)

My life after the internship: Gabriel Harper

This year, we checked in with some of our past interns to find out what came next after their internship ended. Did they stay with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or land another sweet job? We hope they put those skills to good use! Look out for these stories to find out about their life after the internship. Today, meet Gabriel Harper, a superstar federal wildlife officer. Below, find out where he started with us and how he got where he is now.

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Gabriel Harper began his career with the Service through the Conservation Internship Program, now the Career Discovery Internship Program, a partnership between the Service and The Student Conservation Association to help prepare the next generation of wildlife professionals and managers.

The Student Conservation Association allowed for my first true glimpse into the world of conservation. I began my internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in May 2009, at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach. With minimal prior knowledge of the agency, I approached this venture with an open mind and eager attitude. It was the summer of many “firsts” for me! Back Bay afforded me my first time camping, fishing, kayaking, and birding, while also having the duties of giving interpretive speeches and leading guided tours throughout the refuge.

From what was initially intended to be a 12-week internship, with the support from my supervisors, I was converted to a federal career intern position as a park ranger with the Service within a year of my arrival. Shortly thereafter, I transitioned to permanent employee status, where I led guided tours for schools and other large groups, providing information on wildlife and habitat management. Some of my other job duties included assisting the biology staff members with the threatened sea turtle protection program, wildlife surveys, and invasive species control. I developed a passion for outreach, and it led me to look for new innovative ways to bring minorities to experience all the opportunities the great outdoors have to offer.

NCTC broadcast

Gabriel during a broadcast at the National Conservation Training Center about illegal wildlife trade.

In 2011, my passion for the environment led me to pursue a career in law enforcement. After close to a year in training, I was sworn in as a federal wildlife officer with the Service. This unique career field equipped me with the tools and skills necessary to confront illegal hunting, trapping, and harvesting of wildlife and plants. I found that I wasn’t too far from my foundation. A typical day could consist of me teaching youth how to fish, conduct a deer poaching investigation, meet with state conservation officers to discuss an upcoming deer decoy operation, stop and investigate a DUI (driving under the influence) on a refuge, or even assist in natural disaster relief efforts anywhere in the US.

Now in my fourth year with the Service, I work at Patuxent Research Refuge in Laurel, Maryland. I continue to manifest fervent hunger that propelled me in the past days when I was seeking employment. There is still so much I feel needs to be done to bring awareness about our mission. On an individual level, I have made myself available to different programs throughout the agency such as the Service Honor Guard, the special operations response team, and the diversity change agents. My commitment to protect our natural resources is rejuvenated every time I step foot on my refuge.

Full HG Team John TAYLOR funeral

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Honor Guard.

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.

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Darin Dick, of Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia, is the 2013 Northeast Region Refuge Officer of the Year.

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.

Darin

Darin, during a waterfowl hunting work detail on the Susquehanna Flats of Maryland. The birds in the photo were all seized from hunters as evidence.

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.