I have often wondered what it was like back in the early 1900s for Paul Kroegel to grab his 10 gauge shotgun, jump in his boat and try to chase market hunters away from the nesting colonies at Pelican Island. It was a dangerous thing to do. His love for the birds and his anger at their destruction must have made for some tense encounters with the bad guys.

Our Focus in this issue of Refuge Update is on law enforcement. We sure have come a long way since Paul Kroegel’s time. We have come a long way in professionalizing our law enforcement program during my career.

I was one of the last refuge officers who received a badge and a gun before I went to any training.

When I reported for duty at Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge in 1979, the people in charge gave me a government ID card, turned it over and stamped it with “the authority to enforce laws administered by the Fish and Wildlife Service.” They gave me a Smith & Wesson Model 66 stainless steel .357 magnum revolver, handcuffs and leather gear.

I did law enforcement patrols with no training for months before a slot in a nine–week police training course opened at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. During that training, I realized just how clueless I had been and how dangerous it was to have untrained people conducting law enforcement efforts.

I enjoyed law enforcement work, especially the game warden part of it. I served as an officer working on refuges in Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan and Rhode Island. I saw all kinds of cases. I witnessed appalling disregard for wildlife laws. I caught some bad guys. I had my life threatened. Perhaps most important, I learned how central our law enforcement work is to our conservation mission. I saw how critical it is to provide safe places for our employees and visitors.

Photo of federal wildlife officer vehicle
The federal wildlife officer vehicle standards and design were recently revised. The color scheme was changed from white with reflective stripes to gray with a badge on the door, in part to give the vehicles a distinctive game warden look. (USFWS)

Today’s federal wildlife officers working on refuges bring forward a tradition of service that is more than 100 years old. They are an elite force with the best training in the business (it now takes almost a year to fully train an officer). They have increased professionalism, safety and conservation far beyond anything I could have dreamed of during my years in the field. The work is still dangerous, and these men and women serve with great courage and distinction. I couldn’t be prouder of them.

I hope you enjoy reading about our officers and the work they do. Remember when you see them to thank them for their service.