director Blog: Conservation Law Enforcement Protects Us, Not Just Wildlife

Conservation Law Enforcement Protects Us, Not Just Wildlife

As Americans, we are blessed with not only a magnificent diversity of plant and animal life, but also strong laws that protect them – laws such as the Endangered Species Act, Lacey Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act and others, the strength and breadth of which are unparalleled the world over. Like all laws, though, these statutes are only as good as our ability to enforce them, and for that, we are incredibly fortunate to have the men and women of the Service’s Office of Law Enforcement and the National Wildlife Refuge System Law Enforcement Division. 

inspectorWildlife Inspectors are stationed at wildlife ports of entry around the country. Photo by Bill Butcher/USFWS

These officers put on uniform, badge and gun to protect not just our most valuable asset –the natural world around us – but also us as we venture out into it. They ensure that our rivers are unpolluted, our air clean and our wild lands free from criminal activity.

Our K9 Program helps officers by providing specialized skills in crime prevention and in tactical situations, such as locating wildlife and contraband. They are used for tracking people and search and rescue, as well as the full gamut of police related functions. A canine partner provides officer protection and is proven to reduce injuries to law enforcement officers. Dogs are also used to detect illegal wildlife shipments.

Conservation ensures wildlife and other natural resources are available to us and the generations that will follow. And if we do not address certain vital problems today, they will cause devastation tomorrow. Problems such as poaching and the illegal wildlife trade – both homegrown and international. Our law enforcement officers are on the front lines of that fight, stopping illegal trade and cross-border transport while allowing legal trade and the benefit that provides to the world economy to continue.

As we celebrate National Police Week (May 11-17), let us remember the conservation officers everywhere, especially those who died while doing their jobs.

Wildlife law officer

An officer at Vieques National Wildlife Refuge in Puerto Rico looks for people with their dogs that are digging up sea turtle nest on the beach. Photo by Bruce Butler

My heartfelt thanks go out to the officers who inspect packages for smuggled wildlife, check hunting licenses, fight wildlife trafficking schemes, protect wildlife from environmental hazards, study forensic evidence to solve wildlife crime, educate the public about wildlife protection laws and stand as a shield in front of wildlife and the earth’s resources. And to our colleagues overseas in range countries where poaching is at levels never before recorded, with sometimes terrible consequences for law enforcement personnel and their families.

This Police Week, I’m thinking of Emmanuel de Merode, the chief warden of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Emmanuel was shot and wounded during an ambush in April. I am so glad to hear that he is recovering.

Investigators do not yet know the motive behind the attack, but what is well-known is that all of Virunga’s rangers – not just Emmanuel – put their lives on the line on a daily basis to protect the park’s important wildlife, such as gorillas and elephants, and its natural resources.  In the past 10 years, more than 140 of Virunga’s rangers have been killed in the line of duty while protecting wildlife. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recognizes their bravery and sacrifice with our Heroes of the Forest Initiative, which provides a small but critical financial safety net to the widows and children of killed rangers.

We are lucky that few of our officers have died in the line of duty, but we will never forget them:

  • U.S. Game Warden Edgar Lindgren was gunned down near Council Bluffs, Iowa, in August 1922, three weeks after taking the game warden position.  He had just approached three men and asked to see their hunting licenses. They had shot a bittern out of season.
  • U.S. Game Agent Edward Whitehead was shot and killed in December 1934 by a man he had arrested after inspecting the man's game bag of ducks. As the two returned to Savannah, Georgia, the suspect shot him.
  • Refuge Officers Andrew Crews and Joseph Martin were shot and killed when they went to investigate a report of a person wanted for arson in Waycross, Georgia in June 1945.
  • Special Agent Mary Monaghan died after being struck by a backhoe in January 1989 as she walked past a construction site near her office in Washington, DC.
  • Special Agent Douglas Morris was killed when a train hit his Service vehicle at an unprotected crossing in Harris County, Texas, while he was returning from a patrol during goose hunting season in January 1990.
  • Refuge Manager/Officer Richard Guadagno, a passenger on Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, is thought to be among those who fought back against their hijackers, causing the plane to crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
  • Special Agent Thomas Cloherty died on a training run in 2005 in Acadia National Park, Maine.

Please join me in taking a moment to reflect on their memory … and on the memory of the countless others across the world who have died to ensure humanity’s future by ensuring a future for fish, plants and wildlife.

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Last updated: August 31, 2011