Profile: USFWS Special Agent in Charge Greg Jackson
May 6, 2011 vol. 44, No. 18 from Outdoor News
Making the Case by Dick Dickinson
Greg Jackson fishing. Photo provided by Greg Jackson
Greg Jackson found a job he loves in his home state and near his family. Born and raised in International Falls, Jackson spent his youth as every Minnesota boy dreams: prowling northern Minnesota, hunting and fishing, and playing hockey. For seven summers he worked as a fishing guide for a local resort. In 2007, after a 12-year absence, Jackson returned to Minnesota as the special agent in charge of the U.S. and Wildlife Service, where he leads the special agents, wildlife inspectors and administrative personnel of the eight-state Great Lakes/Big Rivers Midwest region.
In 1990 Jackson graduated from Bemidji State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice. His father retired as a supervisory customs inspector at International Falls and his brother is currently chief inspector for customs and border protection at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Jackson was hired as a customs inspector at MSP in 1991.
Greg Jackson and I share a common trait: We both had positions as customs inspectors and transferred to U.S. Fish and Wildlife to become special agents – Jackson in 1995. After completing train- ing, Jackson was assigned a trainee station in Missouri. Reports of Jackson's good work reached me, and in 1996 I selected Jackson for his first duty station in Madison, Wis.
While Jackson was in Madison he was assigned to work undercover with a veteran agent we'll call Sam. They were infiltrating a group using the public hunting areas of Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., as a personal poaching preserve.
It was Jackson's birthday and he was going on his first undercover hunt. The hunt was for turkeys and Jackson had never hunted turkeys. Because it was Jackson's birthday, Sam solemnly promised Jackson could shoot the first bird. They set up with their backs to a tree and Sam began calling. Soon a big old tom strutted into range.
Here's the rub: Jackson's gun was pointed the wrong direction and in the time it would take to switch the gun around, the tom would be long gone. Sam's gun, however, was pointed in the right direction so he leaned across and shot the bird. So much for solemn birthday promises when you're hunting turkeys undercover.
In Madison Jackson worked increasingly more difficult and complex investigative assignments to become a journeyman special agent. In 2001 he was selected a senior special agent/desk officer in the Washington D.C. office. During the next six years in D.C. Jackson also served as special agent in charge of investigations and division chief of law enforcement. In 2007, Jackson returned to Minnesota as special agent in charge.
Since Jackson used to work for me and I hadn't seen him in a while, I called him recently for lunch. We met this past winter, and after catching up I asked him, "What's new?"
Jackson is honest, straight- forward and wants to do what is best for his people and protect the wildlife resource. He knows if you're honest with your employees and take care of them, they'll respond. From what I have heard on what we called the "moccasin tele- graph" he's doing a good job.
USFWS investigations are now focused on the illegal commercialization of wildlife resources, industries that pose a significant detriment to wildlife resources, and threats from injurious/invasive species that pose significant terrestrial and aquatic risk to domestic plants and wildlife species.
Industrial contaminants, Jackson points out, can have tremendous detrimental effects. Exposed oil pits at drilling sites and oil refineries pose a threat to migrating birds. A single exposed oil pit, looking like a shiny pond from the air, can lure hundreds of birds to an oil-soaked death. Illegal application of pesticides and insecticides or the intentional misuse to kill wildlife can kill thousands of wild animals and birds.
Manpower-wise, a class of new special agents just graduated and a class of 24 more is in the hopper. There are currently 200 special agents nationwide and the most there has ever been is 241.
Funding for that manpower has changed. In the old days you got an operating budget and in times of need you could keep a duty station vacant and use the money saved on salary to operate. Not now – operational fund- ing is on a per agent basis. Have 20 agents and you get funded for 20 agents; 22 agents funded for 22 agents.
Jackson sees international and interstate cooperation as key to successful wildlife protection. Cooperation with the Canadian Wildlife Service, provinces, and the eight state chiefs is critical. Jackson knows federal law is not the most useful way to solve a problem. Keeping everyone in the loop and finding the best solution is key to successful prosecution of wildlife criminals.
In combating smuggling, Jackson sees shortfalls in the wildlife inspection program. The program has been reorga- nized and supervision is back with the resident agents in charge to better integrate investigations. The designat- ed ports for importation of wildlife at Chicago is fully staffed and Detroit has four inspectors. Where Jackson sees a need is the northern border and he would like to have a wildlife inspector, but it would be very expensive.
Jackson's heart is still in the field and you can see it when his eyes light up when talking about cases his agents make. Jackson talked about recent successes. The prosecution of the Asian wildlife smuggler Pa Lor, or the Illinois duck guide Jeff Foiles, whose pro- motional videos were filmed while killing overlimits of ducks. There was Operation Skid Row in Indiana, which focused on the illegal take of paddlefish roe. And a two-year undercover on illegal take of ginseng fueled by foreign market demand.
Get Jackson talking about cases and he becomes animated and leans in. He chose to go to the Washington office and come out an administrator and leader, but get him going on cases and he's on point. You can see his fire.
In his off time, Jackson likes to hunt trophy deer. But I think he's losing his edge, spending too much time in the office, because on his two hunts last year the deer proved very elusive.
Editor's note: The author is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent. Readers can contact him at Dick.Dickinson@Comcast.net