A Talk on the Wild Side.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Tom Chisdock was honored today by receiving the 2020 Guy Bradley Award. Named for the first wildlife officer killed in the line of duty, Guy Bradley, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) annually presents this prestigious award to one state and one federal recipient “to recognize extraordinary individuals who have made an outstanding lifetime contribution to wildlife law enforcement, wildlife forensics or investigative techniques.”
Tom began his conservation law enforcement career as a National Park Service park ranger in 1987 and retired from the Service in December of 2019. In 1995, he became an Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) special agent where he conducted numerous complex overt and covert investigations into the domestic and international commercial trafficking of U.S. native wildlife.
Throughout his 33-year career, Tom’s investigations resulted in more than 50 arrests and the majority yielded felony prosecutions. Defendants were sentenced to almost 200 years in prison or probation and ordered to pay nearly $856,000 in fines, forfeitures, and restitution.
“Tom’s career achievements set a gold standard when it comes to disrupting large criminal organizations and individuals who choose to prey on wildlife and plants for financial gain,” says OLE Assistant Director Edward Grace. “Like Guy Bradley, he epitomizes the ultimate conservation law enforcement officer, and we join the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in recognizing his life’s work. We are very proud of Tom’s investigative record, dedication to duty, and expertise in the fight to preserve our nation’s, and the world’s, natural resources.”
The award ceremony.
His ginseng investigations in the Southern Appalachians dismantled multiple networks of illegal ginseng diggers, dealers and international exporters, and caught individuals who were involved in the unlawful commercialization of American bear gall bladders. In a single investigation, 45 defendants from seven states and two foreign countries were successfully prosecuted. They were sentenced to a combined 18 years of incarceration; 36 years of suspended sentences, probation or community service; and more than $209,000 paid in state and federal fines.
Not only did his work dismantle an international wildlife trafficking network, it also provided the vital funds needed to conserve, protect and enhance the survival of wild American ginseng, which has in turn benefitted local communities. For example, during a joint ginseng investigation with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR), his work into the illegal ginseng trade resulted in 430 pounds of wild ginseng roots being seized and then sold at auction by a North Carolina nonprofit organization, the Friends of Plant Conservation. The sale raised $150,000, which was shared equally between the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and the GDNR. The funds were used to conserve, protect and enhance the survival of wild American ginseng, including promoting and educating parties about the legal harvest, purchase, sale, recording and transporting of ginseng.
American ginseng. Photo by Eric Burkhart
From his investigative successes, he is recognized as a subject matter expert regarding the protection of several species including bears, eagles, ginseng and turtles. Tom was an exemplary special agent, an expert in the field of conservation law enforcement and a role model to other agents, and his tireless efforts have greatly contributed to the legacy of Guy Bradley and wildlife conservation.
“Tom’s career exemplifies the dedication and tireless work of those law enforcement professionals who work each day to protect the wildlife and natural resources of the United States,” says Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “His accomplishments in disrupting the illegal trafficking of species, both nationally and internationally, are a model for future wildlife law enforcement officers and are a testament to the dedication and sacrifices required to do this critical and dangerous job.”
Tom has also been named the Southeastern Association of Fish and Wildlife Agency’s Officer of the Year and received a commendation from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division for his outstanding investigative work.
"It's such an honor to be chosen and to have been blessed with such a wonderful career,” says Chisdock. “I could not have been successful without the support of so many individuals along the way, including numerous teachers, mentors and peers who inspired and encouraged me. Most of all, my family and wife gave me the opportunity to succeed professionally and in life. I thank you for the honor of accepting the Guy Bradley Award."
The award includes a $2,500 check, which Tom will donate to the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in honor of his late mother-in-law, who was a lifetime birder and Mississippi resident. The funds will provide tuition for 10 students to attend the center’s summer camp and will be named the "Guy Bradley Summer Camp Scholarship in memory of Carol Barrett."
Amy Jonach, Writer-editor, Office of Law Enforcement, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service