U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service



   Like in the National Park Service summary in regards to park protection, Government involvement in wildlife protection would find its start in California. In 1870, the State of California established the first government-owned wildlife refuge at what is now Lake Merritt, in the heart of downtown Oakland. Federal interest in preserving wildlife first surfaced at about the same time. An independent Bureau of Fisheries was established in 1871 and later incorporated into the Department of Commerce.

   In 1886 a Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy was established in the Department of Agriculture and then in 1891 it was renamed the Division of the Biological Survey. President Benjamin Harrison set aside the first federal sanctuary specifically for wildlife in 1892 when he proclaimed a national salmon reservation on Alaska's Afognak Island. Like in the forest reserves and "public park" reserves, this was a reservation of the public domain and as such would have been administered by the General Land Office.

   At the turn of the century, the once mighty herds of buffalo were on the verge of extinction. Passenger pigeons were once the most populous birds in the world and had been hunted to the point of no return. In Teddy Roosevelt's day, white tailed deer had been hunted to near extinction. Women's hats was causing part of the decline in wild birds. It was thought that every well dressed lady should sport a feather in her cap. There was carnage in the wetlands against egrets, spoonbills, herons, and Ibis. In Florida, these birds were nearly made extinct from the plume trade. Game birds were prized in the upscale urban restaurants of New York and Chicago. Poachers ignored the State and local laws to feed the brisk trade in wildlife products.

   Many states offered no protection to migratory birds whatsoever. They were not protected by federal regulations. Spring shooting was practiced extensively. Market hunters took tons of game each year in violation of state laws, and shipped quantities of illegal wildlife to city markets. The states were unable to adequately cope with market hunting because of a disinterested public, political interference, lack of adequate authority, insufficient law enforcement officers, and because jurisdiction was lost when game was removed from the state where taken. Conservation groups were organized to combat this trend. Bird populations were plummeting. These concerns attracted the attention of American sportsmen. The conservation movement of the turn of the century soon captured these problems and began the necessary campaigns calling for change.

   John F. Lacey, Congressman of Iowa, introduced a bill in Congress which was passed May 25, 1900. It would be known as the "Lacey Act." It was the first Federal law aimed at protecting animals. The Lacey Act prohibiting the interstate shipment of illegally taken wildlife, as well as the importation of injurious species. Enforcement of this Act became the responsibility of the Division of Biological Survey in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Act provided that, "The duties and powers of the Department of Agriculture are hereby enlarged so as to include the preservation, distribution, introduction, and restoration of game birds and other wild birds," and "The Secretary of Agriculture is hereby authorized to adopt such measures as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of this act." The Act would eventually be amended to include the very specific enforcement authority that would allow the Biological Survey to appoint law enforcement officers who were granted arrest authority, search and seizure authority, authority to serve process, and authority to carry firearms. This Act had far reaching applications for wildlife protection in all the Federal land management agencies.

   At the time the Lacey Act passed there were no national conservation police. The responsibility was delegated to the Biological Survey that now had to change from simply a science organization into a full fledge regulatory and law enforcement agency. The title adopted for the officers who would enforce this law was "Inspector, Interstate Commerce in Game." These first "Lacey Agents" primarily worked at rail hubs, express stations, and anywhere someone might try to ship wildlife products such as duck skins and feather plumes. Hunters were shipping vast numbers of birds due to the market demands. In 1901, one single operation netted 48 defendants that had shipped 22,000 quail, grouse, and ducks to Illinois. According to Historian Douglas Brinkley in his book The Wilderness Warrior, President Theodore Roosevelt wanted the Lacey Act followed to the letter of the law.  Roosevelt’s threat was, “shoot a protected nongame bird; go to jail.”


  According to Douglas Brinkley, in July 1902, Colonel Charles J. (“Buffalo”) Jones was appointed as the first U.S. Government game warden in history.  In March of 1903, President Roosevelt appointed Paul Kroegel as the first national wildlife refuge warden for Pelican Island.  Hiring wardens like Jones and Kroegel was ideally suited to Roosevelt’s innate “sheriff” temperament. 

   A presumed authority to set aside reservations of the public domain for protection of wildlife would be utilized in 1901. President Theodore Roosevelt had already shown his inclination to proclaim forest reserves. In terms of wildlife protection, he wrote "I would like to see all harmless wild things protected in every way." Once Roosevelt took office, Ornithologist Frank Chapman decided to take advantage of the president's sympathies. Chapman had his eye on Pelican Island, a 5 acre, federally owned rookery for brown pelicans on Florida's east coast. He asked Roosevelt to sell the island so that it could become an Audubon bird sanctuary. Though willing, Roosevelt foresaw complications in the public land laws in regards to the sale of federal property. Instead he decided to proclaim the island a federal refuge. On March 3, 1903, he issued an executive order stating: "It is hereby ordered that Pelican Island in Indian River ... State of Florida, be, and it is hereby, reserved and set apart for the use of the Department of Agriculture as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds." Roosevelt found this exercise of authority so much to his liking that he created six more refuges in 1906. By the time he left office in 1909, he had established no fewer than fifty-three refuges on federal property, including six in Alaska.

   In the early years the warden's salaries were paid by the American Ornithologists' Union and the various Audubon societies. Paul Kroegel began protecting the birds on Pelican Island before it was ever proclaimed a refuge. Although he initially had no authority to protect the brown pelicans on the small island opposite his home, he did his unofficial best as a citizen warden of sorts. He wore a big hat and carried a double-barreled 10 gauge shotgun to make his point. Kroegel did his best to distance the market hunters from the island. After the proclamation of the refuge, Kroegel was commissioned to be the warden of the island in March 1903 and paid a dollar a month by the Federal government and $7.00 a month by the Audubon societies to protect the birds. He wore a badge issued by President Roosevelt and proudly displayed his diploma-like appointment letter with its raised seal. One of Warden Kroegel's first duties was to erect a large sign on the small island stating "U.S. Reservation - Keep Off." Kroegel also planted the U.S. flag on a 50 foot flagpole so everyone could see this was federal property. He loosely defined the boundaries of the bird reservation as the surrounding waters within gun range.


  Guy M. Bradley was commissioned on May 15, 1902 as one of the first wardens to enforce wildlife protection laws. He was appointed a Game Warden and deputy Sheriff for Monroe County, Florida with a salary of thirty-five dollars a month. His beat would be in the lawless Everglades. On July 8, 1905, at the age of 35, Guy Bradley was shot and would be the first wildlife law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty. He was attempting to arrest a well-known plume hunter for killing egrets on Cape Sable. Douglas Brinkley in The Wilderness Warrior, described the incident as follows:


Somewhat unsteadily, Bradley approached the Smith gang at Oyster Keys, demanding that they drop their guns.  He was the law and had come there to make arrests.  From the moment he spoke, he was greeted with resistance.  A quarrel ensued over whether an arrest warrant was necessary on the waterways; meanwhile, wounded birds, in a frenzy, let out a terrible chant. The initial tension heighten to ferocity.  Harsh words were spoken. As the dispute intensified, a sharpshooter in the Smith gang suddenly shot Bradley in the chest, as if he had been wearing a bull’s-eye on his work shirt.  “He never knew what hit him,” Walter Smith, head of the gang, the murderer, later told the police.  Bradley slumped forward in the bow, bleeding profusely, motionless. His dinghy drifted westward in the slate-gray water.  It journeyed over a reef, away from Oyster Keys and out to sea.  The corpse of Bradley disappeared into the distant horizon as the Smith gang stood and watched from the shore.  Bradley had died a martyr in the line of duty, murdered trying to stop an outlaw plumer gang.  


  On October 4, 1904, President Roosevelt proclaimed the Breton Island Federal Bird Reservation.  Shortly thereafter, Roosevelt appointed Captain William Sprinkle to be the federal game warden there.  According to Douglas Brinkley, Roosevelt found Sprinkle to be a “fearless man” who was worth ten times an Agriculture Department bureaucrat in Washington, D.C.  Roosevelt later wrote: “The government pays many of its servants, usually those with rather easy jobs, too much; but the best men, who do the hardest work, the men in the life-saving and lighthouse service, the forest-rangers, and those who patrol and protect the reserves of wildlife, are almost always underpaid.”

   In 1905 Congress authorized the establishment of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge within the Wichita Forest Reserve in Oklahoma which provided habitat for both the American bison and the Texas longhorn, which fell on hard times after ranchers passed it over in favor of stockier, meatier breeds. In 1935, the jurisdiction of this refuge was transferred to the Biological Survey. Also in 1905, the Division of Biological Survey became the Bureau of Biological Survey and remained in the Department of Agriculture.

   By 1906 six more refuges like Pelican Island had been set aside by executive order in various parts of the country from a number of rocky, agriculturally worthless islets included in the public domain. Warden service was established upon all of them with the cooperation of the National Association of Audubon Societies. To aid in the protection of the refuges, Congress passed the Bird Refuge Act of June 28, 1906 that provided:


   Whoever, except in compliance with rules and regulations promulgated by authority of law, hunts, traps, captures, willfully disturbs or kills any bird, fish, or wild animal of any kind whatever, or takes or destroys the eggs or nest of any such bird or fish, on any lands or waters which are set apart or reserved as sanctuaries, refuges or breeding grounds for such birds, fish, or animals under any law of the United States or willfully injures, molests, or destroys any property of the United States on any such lands or waters, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.


  In 1908, Columbus B. McLeod became a federal game warden in Desoto County, Florida.  He was Paul Kroegel’s counterpart on the Florida Gulf Coast.  He also served as a deputy sheriff of Desoto County.  He was a friend of the manatees but his primary purpose was to protect egrets and roseate spoonbills from extinction.  He became one more federal game warden who lost his life in the line of duty.  Douglas Brinkley in The Wilderness Warrior, described the incident as follows:


Eventually, McCleod himself, while protecting the rookeries in northern Charlotte Harbor and the lower Peace River, became a victim of the “Feather Wars.”  Shortly after Roosevelt’s Executive Order 939 regarding the west coast of Florida, he was murdered by local fishermen and plumers who were furious over federal island grabs. McLeod’s patrol boat No. 5 was discovered on November 30, 1908, sunk with sand bags. Blood was splattered all around, as if a can of red paint had exploded.  Detectives, believed that McLeod had been hacked to death with an ax, recovered his blood-soaked hat, which had two gashes in the crown. Clumps of hair were also found. A struggle had obviously occurred before McLeod had died.  Speculation was that his body had been tossed into the Gulf of Mexico, where sharks and other flesh-eating fish had devoured it.  


   In 1909 Congress authorized and President Taft approved the first use of federal funds to purchase land on behalf of wildlife. This action was precedent-setting in another way, for the land in question - 12,800 acres on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana - was acquired not as a stopping-point or refuge for transient birds but as a year-round habitat for a single species, the American buffalo. Thus, practically at the eleventh hour, the extinction that Audubon had predicted for the animal was averted. Now called the National Bison Range, this was the first of the game ranges that are now part of the national wildlife refuge system. The bison for the National Bison Range were supplied by the American Bison Society.

   In a document produced for a 1909 Congressional hearing, it was reported that the the Bureau of Biological Survey had been appropriated $44,420. A portion of that was to be made available for the enforcement of the Lacey Act. But only 1 game-law violation was reported under the Lacey Act in 1908.

   In 1912 the Izaak Walton League donated 1,760 acres for the National Elk Refuge established at Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

   The decline in wildlife populations continued. It seemed that the Lacey Act was too late to save America's birds. Poachers developed new technologies that allowed them to wipe out huge numbers of birds. They created "punt guns" that shot glass out of large barrels and could gun down 50 or more birds in a single shot. They used "battery guns" with up to twenty barrels that could bring down whole flocks at one time. It soon was apparent that Federal limits on shipping game would not be enough to stop the decline.

   Partly because there were not enough game inspectors, the Lacey Act failed to provide adequate protection to migratory birds. In 1913, Congress enacted two crucial wildlife statutes: the Federal Tariff Act, which forbade the importation of plumes and other bird parts except for scientific purposes, and the Weeks-McLean Act, which once and for all declared the protection of migratory game birds to be a federal responsibility. The Federal Migratory Bird Law (Weeks-McLean Law) was passed by Congress on March 4, 1913. It became effective and the first migratory bird hunting regulations were adopted on October 1.

   The Migratory Bird Law was abandoned following the enactment of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) on July 3,1918. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act made it unlawful to take, possess, buy, sell, purchase, or barter any migratory bird, including feathers, parts, nests, or eggs. The enforcement provisions of the Act are as follows:

   Any employee of the Department of the Interior authorized by the Secretary of the Interior to enforce the provisions of this subchapter shall have power without warrant, to arrest any person committing a violation of this subchapter in his presence or view and to take such person immediately for examination or trial before an officer or court of competent jurisdiction; shall have power to execute any warrant or other process issued by an officer or court of competent jurisdiction for the enforcement of the provisions of this subchapter; and shall have authority, with a search warrant, to search any place. The several judges of the courts established under the laws of the United States, and United States magistrates may, within their respective jurisdictions, upon proper oath or affirmation showing probable cause, issue warrants in all such cases. All birds, or parts, nests, or eggs thereof, captured, killed, taken, sold or offered for sale, bartered or offered for barter, purchased, shipped, transported, carried, imported, exported, or possessed contrary to the provisions of this subchapter or of any regulation prescribed thereunder, shall, when found, be seized and, upon conviction of the offender or upon judgement of a court of the United States that the same were captured, killed, taken, sold or offered for sale, bartered or offered for barter, purchased, shipped, transported, carried, imported, exported, or possessed contrary to the provisions of this subchapter or of any regulation prescribed thereunder, shall be forfeited to the United States and disposed of by the Secretary of the Interior in such manner as he deems appropriate. Except as otherwise provided in this section, any person, association, partnership, or corporation who shall violate any provisions of said conventions or of this subchapter, or who shall violate or fail to comply with any regulation made pursuant to this subchapter shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction thereof shall be fined not more than $500 or be imprisoned not more than six months, or both. Whoever, in violation of this subchapter, shall - (1) take by any manner whatsoever any migratory bird with intent to sell, offer for sale, barter or offer for barter such bird, or (2) sell, offer to sell, barter or offer to barter, any migratory bird shall be guilty of a felony and shall be fined not more than $2,000 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both. All guns, traps, nets and other equipment, vessels, vehicles, and other means of transportation used by any person when engaging in pursuing, hunting, taking, trapping, ensnaring, capturing, killing, or attempting to take, capture, or kill any migratory bird in violation of this subchapter with the intent to offer for sale, or sell, or offer for barter, or barter such bird in violation of this subchapter shall be forfeited to the United States and may be seized and held pending the prosecution of any person arrested for violating this subchapter and upon conviction for such violation, such forfeiture shall be adjudicated as a penalty in addition to any other provided for violation of this subchapter. Such forfeited property shall be disposed of and accounted for by, and under the authority of, the Secretary of the Interior.

   There could be little doubt that the Bureau of Biological Survey was now firmly in the law enforcement business. It empowered the Biological Survey to regulate hunting, and strict limits resulted; no spring or market hunting, an open season on waterfowl of no more than three and a half months, and daily bag limits of ten geese and twenty-five ducks. At about the same time, gun and ammunition manufacturers recognized the decline in game-bird populations as a threat to their livelihoods and began to lobby for strengthened laws. For a few years game birds made a comeback.

   The Bureau of Biological Survey began using the title "U.S. Game Warden" for those who would be engaged in the enforcement of the Act. The act (MBTA) yielded a single set of regulations throughout the U.S. Suddenly the work of the game wardens changed. Now they had to go out to the pot holes and wetlands and confront the hunters face to face. For this work, the Government recruited hunters who had been around waterfowl their entire lives. These game wardens soon acquired the nickname of "duckcops." The job now required a new breed of employee. The U.S. Game Warden had to be someone who could work on their own most of the time. They had to have the investigative ability and perseverance of a police detective and they had to be at home in the rural and back country locations where they work. This work was much like their ranger and agent counterparts in the early Forest Service, National Park Service and General Land Office except without the support of local ranger stations and land offices. During the peak periods of the "duckcops" in the 1920s and 1930s there were only about 24 of these game agents at the most. Even in 1934 when poaching was at its worst. This small force faced tremendous opposition. Many sportsmen resented this "Federal interference" in what they believed was a local issue.

   Eventually one of these sportsmen would challenge the law. Missouri Attorney General Frank McAllister was one such hunter. He believed Missouri owned any wildlife that was found there and they were responsible for policing their own hunting regulations. On March 6, 1919, U.S. Game Warden Ray Holland arrested Attorney General McAllister for hunting ducks out of Federal season. McAllister claimed that the law (MBTA) was unconstitutional. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

   In Missouri v. Holland, the State of Missouri would claim that the provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act was unconstitutionality on the ground that it was an invasion of the sovereignty of the state. In 1920, the United States Supreme Court sustained the Migratory Bird Treaty Act as constitutional "establishing beyond question the supremacy of the Federal treaty-making power as a source of authority for Federal wildlife regulation."

   Duckcops had their work cut out for them. The most dangerous time of the year was spring when the season was closed and poachers were out in force. Duckcops were forced to go into remote areas where people didn't really want to see them and then ask armed folks to show their tags and to explain why they were hunting out of season. Hunters slashed the tires on the duckcops patrol cars and poured sand into the tanks of their boats. It wasn't long before harassments and insults escalated into violence. Edgar Lindgren had recently become a U.S. Game Warden having served as U.S. Deputy Game Warden since June 1921. He had been in Council Bluffs, Iowa for about three weeks and had already made a local name for himself arresting poachers for hunting turtle doves out of season. On August 17, 1922, Lindgren approached three men near Big Lake for shooting a bittern out of season. Each of the hunters carried a shotgun. Lingren had only a pistol. Asking to see their hunting licenses, Lindgren was hit by a shotgun blast. Two of the hunters then shot him at point blank range as he lay disarmed and bleeding on the ground. Lindgren died four days later of his wounds. His shooters were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Lindgren's shooters were Italian and the case was used by some local papers to flame anti immigration rhetoric. He was the first U.S. Game Warden to be murdered in the line of duty. Lingren's death and the on-going threat of violence brought not despair but innovation.

   During the 1920s, however, the situation (availability of game birds) deteriorated again. for one thing, the number of hunters increased dramatically, especially after automobiles became widely owned. Lack of enforcement continued to be a national scandal. There is the colorful example of Drawbridge, California. Drawbridge was a hot spot during prohibition, complete with gambling clubs and a bordello. At the same time, San Francisco Bay and the marshes in the Sacramento River Delta were, and still are, concentration points for thousands of wintering waterfowl. Ducks were so plentiful and easy to kill that they fetched only three cents each, ten for a quarter, on the black market and were used as currency at the Drawbridge gambling tables.

   Also in the 1920s, waterfowl habitat everywhere was being converted at a dizzying rate: draining marshland for agriculture and residential development became something of a national mania. There was a call for setting aside additional lands and waters for habitat. In the midst of this turmoil the national wildlife refuge system as we know it was born.

   The Upper Mississippi River Refuge would be designated by Congress in the Act of June 7, 1924. Through this Act, the Congress would start a trend. The Act provided (among other things): (1) specific prohibitions; (2) arrest authority for any persons engaged in enforcing the prohibitions; (3) search and seizure authority; and (4) authority to publish regulations with criminal penalties. The trend that was started was that the Congress would specifically provide these law enforcement authorities for each specific refuge as they were designated for many decades to come. For example, almost identical law enforcement authority was granted in the Act of April 23, 1928 for the designation of the Bear River Refuge. This was a departure of their previous practice of simply granting blanket arrest authority to all the employees like they had done for the Forest Service and the National Park Service. This convoluted method of granted law enforcement authority would cause numerous complications for law enforcement in the National Wildlife Refuges for years to come. Between 1913 and 1925 national wildlife refuges were established in twenty-four states and the refuge principle became firmly established as a part of the American system of wildlife management.

   In 1926, Secretary of Agriculture commended U.S. Game Warden Kenneth F. Roahen of Peoria, Illinois. He commended his courageous action early in December in arresting two violators of Federal game laws, who, with two others, held guns on him for several minutes while he was attempting to apprehend them. He had been patrolling about a week for the two men who were shooting ducks from a motor boat, which is a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and when he rowed up to them found he was covered with three guns in two boats. There were four men, all seemed to be well under the influence of liquor. The courage of Warden Roahen is typical of that frequently exhibited by the other 23 Wardens of the Biological Survey, who were stationed at important waterfowl concentration points throughout the country. At least one of these men has lost his life in the performance of duty and others have been shot at and wounded, or their lives otherwise threatened.

   In 1926, the Black Bass Act became law, making it illegal to transport in interstate commerce black bass taken, purchased, or sold in violation of State law.

   In 1929 Congress enacted a law providing for the purchase of land for waterfowl refuges; the bill's principle sponsor was Senator Peter Norbeck of South Dakota, a formidable champion of wildlife conservation. Funds to implement the new law were hard to come by during the depression, however, and in the early 1930s climate pushed waterfowl populations into a precipitous decline. The Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929 provided authority for the acquisition of migratory bird refuges, and the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act of 1934 provided the funding mechanism for such acquisition. However, purchase of refuge lands has been the exception as 97 percent of the acreage in the refuge system thus far had been done through Presidential proclamation or Congressional designation of reservations of the public domain lands.

   A small force of U.S. Game Wardens assisted by U.S. Deputy Game Wardens of state wildlife departments were unable to curb the decline of migratory bird populations by conventional law enforcement patrol. By 1928, the U.S. Game Wardens became known as "U.S. Game Protectors." But the nickname duckcop would stick. The duckcops began to engage in the first undercover stings in U.S. law enforcement. In 1929 Chicago, illegal liquor was a thriving industry, so was illegally taken waterfowl. Taking a cue from "bootleggers," duck smugglers used local drunks and hoboes to messenger packages of dressed wild duck to upscale restaurants. U.S. Game Protector John Perry was normally every inch the sober and well groomed gentleman. Perry dressed as a slouchingly dockside drunk and called himself "Dopey." He easily infiltrated an unsuspecting ring of duck bootleggers. One night in October 1929, he meet the "duckleggers" in an alley where he exchanged birds for cash. Within minutes the astonished law breakers were surrounded by a team of U.S. Game Protectors. The undercover buy/bust sting was an unmitigated success. John Perry used the Dopey character again and again.

   Chicago's "duck bootleggers" laughed at the few U.S. Game Wardens who were chasing market hunters in the field. For years wildlife smugglers bought and sold wildfowl, while agents were unable to apprehend the ringleaders. The Chicago duckleggers had a stooge, an old waterfront derelict who was unaware of the contents of packages he carried from dealers to Chicago's finest restaurants and night clubs. One night in 1929 the "duck bootleggers" met as usual in a dark alley. Dressed wild ducks were exchanged for green bills.

   "Thanks Dopey," one of the duckleggers whispered. "You know where to be tomorrow night: Here's an extra buck for your trouble. Go buy yourself a bottle of wine."

   Minutes later, U.S. Game Wardens swooped down on the mob, and the next day, leaders of Chicago's duckleggers appeared in federal court. They were reintroduced to ole Dopey, the waterfront bum. Dopey was sober, clean shaven and well dressed. "Dopey" John E. Perry of Nashville, Tennessee, was assigned to Illinois as a U.S. Game Protector. Perry, the waterfront drunk, was the original "wildlife undercover agent." He was a true pioneer that was later joined in undercover work by other Bureau of Biological Survey game protectors. Perry's undercover work predated the FBI, ATF, or DEA undercover operatives. During his career, Perry gave many game dealers the "old drunk trick."

   The 1929 book The Bureau of Biological Survey, Its History, Activities, and Organization states that the Division of Game and Bird Conservation is in charge of : the protection of birds, animals, and property on the reservations and the maintenance and operation of the five big game refuges. The Division was also in charge of a United States Game Conservation Officer who supervised 23 U.S. Game Protectors stationed throughout the United States. The book also identified one "U.S. Reservation Protector" in each of the five big game refuges. The bird refuges varied in their law enforcement coverage. Their was a "U.S. Reservation Protector" stationed at Big Lake, Arkansas and Lake Malheur, Oregon. Their was a "U.S. Warden" stationed at the other 12 refuges. Finally, the Upper Missouri River had 3 "Reservation Rangers" and 8 "Deputy Reservation Rangers."

   Dwindling populations of migratory waterfowl during the late 1920s and early 1930s again aroused concern of sportsmen across the nation. The President selected a special United States Senate Committee on Conservation of Wildlife Resources which conducted hearings in Washington, D.C. on April 4, 5, and 6, 1932 to investigate the migratory waterfowl shortage. During these hearings, witnesses appeared from throughout America. Drought in the breeding grounds, over harvest caused from spring shooting, market hunting, baiting and live decoys were issues discussed by the participants.

   Ray Holland, then Editor of Field and Stream magazine testified at the 1932 hearings: "Overshooting has undoubtedly had a lot to do with the duck shortage. In the market shooting days, when a lot of men made their living shooting ducks, I have seen 15,000 to 20,000 mallards on the docks for shipment along the Mississippi."

   In 1934, the U.S. Game Protectors received the new title of "U.S. Game Management Agent." At the first conference of Game Management Agents of the Biological Survey held in Chicago during September 1935, John Perry presented a program to his fellow agents titled: "Buying ducks in the Illinois Valley Undercover." Several agents attending that meeting were convinced that undercover had great potential in wildlife law enforcement.

   Larry Merovka, the agent-in-charge of Louisiana, employed Cecil B. Pedifer in 1935 as a full time undercover operative. News clippings from 1935 to 1940 are proof of the success of Pedifer and Merovka assisted by Merovka's wife, Earlyne. They effectively infiltrated market hunters and restaurants buying and serving migratory game birds in Louisiana.

   Pedifer bought 2,200 live trapped quail from ten Mississippi men. Testifying in federal district court in Memphis on October 4, 1938, Pedifer said, "I estimate I got no more than 10 percent of birds which were sold on the Memphis market. They are trapped or shot and shipped to Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago, and have been shipped as far as New York."

   U.S. District Judge Martin told the defendants "These are important laws, and I want those who come before me in the future to know that they are committing a grave mistake, for jail sentences are sure to follow. Fines are being levied today because these are the first cases of commercial game violations to come before my court."

   Biological Survey Game Agents Cecil Pedifer and John Perry bought ducks, geese, quail from 50 market hunters operating in the "Mid South" states of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi during an undercover operation conducted in 1938.

   A $10,000 appropriation was authorized by the Biological Survey to obtain information from informants and for payment of rewards for information concerning violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. The appropriation was later increased to $30,000. The rules and regulations required that game agents use the fund only for reimbursement for money already spent. Game agents using the fund for undercover had to work out of their own pockets and submit the proper vouchers to recover their investment. During the depression, agents were not in a financial position to have sufficient money for this purpose. The dedication and persistence of some agents was proof that "where there is a will, there is a way!" U.S. Game Agents Hugh Worcester and C. E. Fairchild assigned to California were motivated and determined to find necessary funding to buy wild ducks which were readily available. Fairchild sold all of his liberty bonds and Worcester took personal loans from the Bank of America in Berkeley. Worcester also finally convinced a group of sportsmen from San Francisco to furnish $1,400.00 for undercover buys. In 1938, Game Agent R. D. Hilderbrand presented a paper titled "Undercover Work" at a Bureau of Biological Survey Conference of Regional Directors and game management agents in St. Louis, Missouri.

   Perry, Worcester, Fairchild, Merovka, Pedifer, Hilderbrand and others were doing effective undercover work in the 1930's providing funds from their pockets, and some were never reimbursed! This dedication was synonymous of many early day conservation officers. They were plowing new ground, trying new techniques, without textbooks or training. They educated U.S. Attorneys and federal judges about commercialization of wildfowl and the alarming decline of these resources. By trial and error they demonstrated new wildlife protection methods which found undercover law enforcement to be a successful and economical means to fight wildlife commercialization. They also discovered that there was a sophisticated, cunning, and dangerous criminal element involved in the wildlife business.

   The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was once again challenged in 1935. In Shouse v. Moore, a number of residents of Kentucky, who engage in and enjoy the sport of hunting doves, sought to enjoin the United States marshal and the United States district attorney from enforcing the regulation made by the Secretary of Agriculture which they believed deprived them of the right to hunt doves during the month of September and to enjoin these officers of the United States from arresting and prosecuting or causing the arrest or prosecution of any of the complainants who may engage in hunting doves after September 1st in violation of said regulation. The Court found that the Act and subsequent regulations were valid as the preservation of game and fish is within proper domain of (Federal) police power.

   A 1939 Reorganization Act transferred the Commerce Department's Bureau of Fisheries and the Agriculture Department's Bureau of the Biological Survey to the Interior Department; they were consolidated and renamed the Fish and Wildlife Service.

   Also in 1939 a large scale undercover operation was conducted by Biological Survey Game Agents along the eastern shores of Virginia, Maryland, and Deleware. Sixty-eight subjects; 33 in Virginia, 25 in Maryland, and 10 in Delaware were arrested for buying, selling, and trapping wild ducks. In Maryland the subjects were fined from $50.00 to $300.00 and one received 20 days in jail.

   In Virginia, 14 subjects received jail sentences up to sixty 60 days for buying and selling, and 3 duck trappers received 60 days in jail; but in Delaware all ten 10 subjects received $10.00 fines (a mockery of our judicial system).

   Undercover operations were conducted throughout the 1930s and 40s in "Migratory Bird Hot Spots" located in Illinois, Missouri, Louisiana, California, and the eastern shores of Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware. Even though violators did not always receive penalties commensurate with the violations, a new wildlife law enforcement technique became operational. The war against market hunters was just beginning.

   The Bald Eagle Protection Act became law on June 8, 1940, prohibiting a variety of activities involving the species, including import, export, take, sell, purchase, or barter. The enforcement provisions included criminal prohibited acts, arrest authority, authority to serve process, and search and seizure authority.


   Recognizing new public demands for recreational activities after World War II, Congress passed the Refuge Recreation Act of 1962. This Act authorized the recreational use of refuges when such uses did not interfere with the area's primary purposes and when sufficient funds were available to conduct recreational activities. The Act also clarified the appropriateness of public use on refuges, encouraged efforts to provide wildlife-oriented recreation, interpretation and environmental education activities, and required that such uses be compatible with the purposes for which the lands were acquired. Prior to this, refuges were generally kept open for hunting and fishing, but other then a few boat ramps, little in the way of recreational facilities had been provided. This would eventually result in placement of access roads, parking lots, campgrounds, picnic areas, visitor centers and other recreation facilities. Some refuges would even be open to aquatic sports like water skiing. Some refuges would come to take on an appearance of a park.


   The Airborne Hunting Act was passed on November 18, 1971. It generally prohibited shooting or attempting to shoot or harassing any bird, fish, or other animal from an aircraft. The law has misdemeanor criminal penalties and granted additional law enforcement authority to the FWS officers.


   The Marine Mammal Protection Act was enacted in 1972. It provided for regulating the take of marine mammals and their parts. It provided both civil penalties and misdemeanor criminal penalties. It also granted additional law enforcement authority to FWS officers.


   The Endangered Species Act of 1973 would expand the law enforcement activities of the FWS special agents more than any other Federal statute. Its scope was rather wide ranging and would take the special agent to places far beyond the waterfowl hunting areas. A special agent was assigned in 1975 to specifically coordinate endangered species issues which engaged him in managing endangered species investigations nationwide. He immediately found out that there was no easy way of getting his wildlife evidence examined, identified and compared. The FWS did not have a wildlife crime lab and this special agent began working towards setting up wildlife evidence standards and procedures and pushing for the establishment of a lab.


   Eventually due to the Endangered Species Act and many treaties with foreign nations, the FWS created a program of wildlife inspectors to work at major ports and places where the illegal smuggling of endangered animal or their parts could be interdicted.


   The National Wildlife Refuge System Administration Act was enacted in 1974. This statute would serve as the foundation for regulations and law enforcement on the units of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It provided arrest, search and seizure authority to the refuge officers. In would result in regulations for use of the refuges issued in March 1976 that would set the foundation of what the refuge officers were to enforce within units of the system.


   Up to this point in history the law enforcement authorities for the Fish and Wildlife Service were drawn from numerous organic statutes for the specific refuges and numerous statutes that called for regulations and enforcement in certain fish and wildlife categories. When the FWS officers were asked what the source of their authority was, it was a very complicated answer. The FWS probably has more statutes addressing law enforcement authority than any of the other Federal land management agencies. An attempt to provide a consolidated and reorganized law enforcement statute for FWS law enforcement was made through the introduction of H.R. 5523. It was introduced in the House on March 26, 1976. It is interested to note that in this same session of Congress, law enforcement provisions were also being considered for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. Those provisions would eventually be enacted in 1976. However, even though H.R. 5523 made it out of committee and passed in the House on May 3, 1976 and referred to the Senate, it would ultimately not be enacted. It would have provided the following set of authorities for FWS officers:


  • Authorized to carry firearms
  • Authorized to make arrests
  • Authorized to conduct related investigations
  • Authorized to serve warrants and court process
  • Authorized to designate local law enforcement officials for enforcement on FWS lands.
  • Authorized to have reimbursable law enforcement agreements with state and local agencies.


   Since enactment of this bill failed, the FWS officers would continue with their numerous and complex sets of existing authorities.


  The GAO included the Fish and Wildlife Service in their 1977 evaluation of Crime in Federal Recreation Areas – A serious Problem Needing Congressional and Agency Action. The GAO had found that in 1974, the National Wildlife Refuges had only 21,107,000 visitors. This was the least of all the Federal land management agencies evaluated in the report. Although the refuges are intended to primary be for the benefit of fish and wildlife, the Refuge Recreation Act had opened them to compatible recreation uses and they were therefore included by the GAO in the category of "Federal recreation areas."


   One refuge that was part of the evaluation was the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois which serves as a recreation area for southern Illinois and the St. Louis, Missouri area. The GAO said that according to officials at this refuge, increased criminal activity in the 1970s had led to the establishment of an FWS police force at the refuge. In fiscal year 1975, these FWS police (refuge officers) reported 54 thefts, 1 rape, and 3 armed robbery cases to police agencies. The refuge personnel also investigated 75 other incidents.


   The Department of the Interior’s response to the GAO report indicated that FWS enforcement activities are directed toward enforcing the FWS recreation use regulations, which have some visitor protection aspects. However, the Department of the Interior believed that the FWS relies on other law enforcement agencies for visitor protection. The Department said that this was because Congress had not authorized the FWS to enforce "non-fish and wildlife resource protection – related crimes."


   The GAO had visited two FWS recreation areas. One had no employees involved in law enforcement and relied totally on other enforcement agencies for visitor protection services. The other had "four police officers" who carried firearms and made arrests for felony and misdemeanor offenses involving misconduct against visitors and their property. Two of the police officers were also deputy sheriffs.


   The GAO found that at the time of their report, the FWS did not require any training for refuge employees who performed law enforcement duties. The agency was at the time considering requiring all refuge employees assigned law enforcement duties to attend the basic police training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.


   The GAO conducted a survey and requested comments and responses from FWS field locations. In the survey they found that 80% of FWS law enforcement officials were carrying firearms on duty.


   One comment provided by a FWS ranger (refuge officer) was:


This is a large national wildlife refuge located in a heavily populated area. It is subject to approximately a half-million public visits yearly. Since it represents some of the last remaining wild land in this locality it has become heavily used by narcotics addicts, bootleggers, drinking parties, those carrying on questionable practices of all types, etc. Visitors have been harassed and molested. The refuge maintains an adequate patrol from about November 1 through March 1, but there should be regular patrol throughout all other months, including holiday and weekend patrol and some night patrol. Only by this will future visitors be assured of a safe and respectable experience.


   In 1979, the FWS hired their first wildlife crime lab director in Washington, DC. He worked on setting up a forensics program for wildlife law enforcement and wrote the crime scene investigation, evidence handling and forensics portion of the FWS law enforcement manual. The FWS Wildlife Forensics Laboratory was opened in July 1989 in Ashland, Oregon. About 50% of the lab’s business would be in support of the investigations of the FWS special agents, 45% would be in support of the over 7,000 state game wardens and conservation officers, and 5% would support international efforts.


   In 1989, two FWS special agents went to a private residence to seize a mountain lion that had been illegal transported across state lines in violation of Federal law. As the special agents entered the building, the owner attempted to assault them with a piece of pipe. The agents drew their guns and stopped the attack and then arrested to suspect.


   In the late 1980s, the FWS law enforcement program had received considerable criticism from individuals, groups, and organizations. To look into these concerns, the FWS Director established a six person Law Enforcement Advisory Commission to review and evaluate the Law Enforcement Division. This commission completed their report of findings and recommendations in June 1990. The commission contacted over one hundred individuals, both FWS employees and interested public, to hear and learn about their concerns. Contacts were made with representatives of numerous wildlife, hunting and other special interest organizations and groups as well. The substantive findings of the commission were:


  • The FWS had a serious morale problem within the Division of Law Enforcement.
  • FWS managers appeared to have placed very little or no priority for the law enforcement program. The Division of Law Enforcement employees did not see themselves as full partners in the FWS organization. FWS managers viewed law enforcement as subservient to and not equal to other FWS programs and the current organizational structure reinforces this.
  • Some outside wildlife interests groups complained that FWS law enforcement was out of control, anti-hunting, and over zealous in its enforcement efforts. However, other groups strongly supported FWS law enforcement efforts and thought that they needed to do more enforcement.
  • FWS managers had placed an unwritten restriction on the special agents in the form of a ban on domestic Lacey Act (interstate transport of wildlife parts) cases and this caused serious liaison problems with state and local wildlife agencies who depended upon the procedure of referring such interstate cases to the FWS.
  • There was confusion as to whether the special agents should take on the role of being solely a criminal investigator or a wildlife conservation officer.
  • There was no definite policy on who the special agents were to use for proper identification of wildlife species. Some offices relied on local experts, others relied on the "Office of Scientific Authority" and others on the Forensics Laboratory in Oregon. This was complicated by the fact that the FWS Forensics Laboratory was organizationally aligned with the Portland Region even though it was both a national and international resource.
  • Accusations had been made that non-law enforcement personnel were interfering in the law enforcement process. This was being done by non-law enforcement personnel with a lack of knowledge or background in the criminal and civil justice system.
  • The Division of Law Enforcement was charged with the development of law enforcement policies and procedures, but had no direct supervisory authority in implementing these policies and procedures. A majority of the FWS law enforcement personnel and some interested public suggested that restructuring the law enforcement program to place it under line authority of an Assistant Director for Law Enforcement was called for.
  • Unlike the other Federal resource management agency law enforcement officers, FWS special agents were not assigned to specific land areas, such as forests, refuges, or parks. The number of special agents had declined by 8% since 1977 at the same time there had been an increase in law enforcement responsibility. However, the overall staffing of the FWS had increased by 78% during the same time period.
  • National law enforcement priorities were not being communicated to the regions and the regions were setting their own priorities.
  • There had been complaints from the public concerning the over-emphasis for enforcement of technical violations not willfully committed. However, the commission found that violations of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act did not have to be willful to justify criminal enforcement actions. In this case, the liability for knowing the laws and regulations is on the hunter. The commission believed that the general hunting public did not understand the provisions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and how the special agent’s discretion is limited for not taking enforcement actions. Many of the complaints were concerned with enforcement actions in regards to prohibitions against baiting, over limits, and taking of the wrong species.
  • The commission had received a variety of complaints and observations from individuals regarding undercover operations. However, they did not find any specific examples where any of these complaints were confirmed. In fact, the commission was not furnished with, nor did it discover, any cases where "entrapment" was successfully used as a defense. Still others complained that the FWS law enforcement policies focused on "busting big shots." The commission found that although some wealthy and influential persons were involved in some of the cases, it was not apparent that FWS efforts targeted them.
  • The public did not generally know that law enforcement personnel are subject to a thorough, continuous and independent review of their activities by the Department of Justice and the courts. Complaints of entrapment and poor law enforcement techniques have not been supported.
  • The wildlife inspector program was not considered important or significant to the FWS. Although, much more inspection effort was needed, there appeared to be little or no direction to the wildlife inspection effort. The FWS had only authorized 56 inspectors. The number of authorized inspectors was significantly less than the level needed to accomplish the overall inspection mission.
  • State wildlife agency officials uniformly praised FWS law enforcement and thought that they were "under siege" by external detractors.
  • All Assistant U.S. Attorneys and Department of Justice personnel expressed a very favorable view of the special agents and their case presentations.


The commission made the following recommendations:


  • The FWS must decide if the law enforcement program is to be oriented primarily toward criminal investigations or towards wildlife law enforcement or both.
  • The FWS law enforcement manual should be revised.
  • An Assistant Director for Law Enforcement position should be established and the incumbent should be a law enforcement professional with significant experience in the management of criminal investigations. Restructuring the organization so that the special agents report in line authority to this Assistant Director of Law Enforcement should be considered.
  • Non-law enforcement management personnel dealing with law enforcement matters should attend a law enforcement for managers training program at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
  • A formalized procedure for identification of wildlife should be instituted. Restructure the administrative and operational lines of authority so that the Forensic Laboratory reports to the recommended Assistant Director for Law Enforcement.
  • The wildlife inspection program should be reviewed and policies, priorities and procedures should be updated, including those pertaining to personnel, funding and authority.
  • The FWS Director should boldly, firmly, and publically state support for the law enforcement program and its vital role in the protection of wildlife resources.
  • A single unit should receive and process complaints about LE operations to insure uniformity, accuracy of reporting, and proper processing.

   The Law Enforcement Advisory Commission was probably established because of the unfounded public complaints that seem to have the theme that the FWS special agents were doing too much law enforcement. The outcome of the commissions report seemed to be pointed towards increasing law enforcement efforts and this would be ultimately supported by a GAO report in the following year.


   The GAO prepared their April 1991 report titled Wildlife Protection, Enforcement of Federal Laws Could be Strengthen. The report was done at the request of the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Fisheries and Wildlife Conservation and the Environment. The subcommittee had requested the GAO to review the adequacy of federal laws and treaties for protecting fish and wildlife and the extent to which the Department of the Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service enforces those laws and treaties. The report also discussed the law enforcement activities conducted by special agents in six of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s regions. For the most part, the GAO report corroborated the findings and recommendations of the 1990 Law Enforcement Advisory Commission Report.


   The GAO determined that the full extent to which fish and wildlife are illegally taken was not known, but some estimates of the annual worldwide illegal trade in wildlife and their parts exceeded a billion dollars. The GAO stated that the FWS has broad law enforcement authority under 11 laws and 6 international treaties. The FWS law enforcement staff consisted of 200 special agents and 66 wildlife inspectors that were decentralized throughout the United States. Also, the Division of Refuges oversaw a force of about 760 refuge officers on the approximately 460 National Wildlife Refuges. The special agents work cooperatively with the refuge officers, state conservation officers, and others in investigating suspected crimes against wildlife. The Special agents are criminal investigators responsible for the protection of domestic and international fish, wildlife, and plant resources. They maintain liaison with all mutually interested federal, state, and local enforcement authorities and conduct investigations into violations of laws to protect fish and wildlife. Wildlife inspectors support and work closely with special agents in enforcing and administering laws governing the importation and exportation of fish and wildlife species, the animals’ parts, and products made from the animals or their parts.


   The GAO determined in their survey of FWS special agents that existing federal statutes and international treaties generally provide adequate authority to protect wildlife. However, the special agents were concerned about the lack of warrantless search and seizure authority under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.


   In 1976, FWS estimated that it needed 240 special agents to fulfill its law enforcement responsibilities. Although FWS total staffing increased from 4,138 in fiscal year 1977 to 7,367 in fiscal year 1990, FWS had directed the increases to activities other than law enforcement. The number of special agents actually declined from 220 to 200. This was at a time of increasing responsibilities and crimes against wildlife. Cases opened annually by FWS special agents numbered in the thousands, and fines for illegal acts against wildlife had exceeded $1 million in fiscal years 1984 through 1989. But the FWS Division of Law Enforcement had not fared well in the allocation of substantial increases in the FWS overall funding and staffing. There were fewer special agents then than there were 10 years ago. FWS officials interviewed identified a specific needs for 16 additional special agents.


   The GAO report implied that enforcement of Federal wildlife laws needed to be strengthened and increased, not decreased. The report was supportive of amending the Migratory Bird Treaty Act to include warrantless search authority. The report also drew attention to the decrease in staffing sustained by the FWS law enforcement program.


   The Outdoor Ethics publication of the Izaak Walton League reported in their Winter 1992 edition that the FWS had refused to implement the recommendation of the Law Enforcement Advisory Commission to establish an Assistant Director of Law Enforcement position. But they did report the good news that the FWS law enforcement program received an extra $1 million in funding in 1991. Further, the law enforcement program received an increase in appropriations of $1.8 million in 1992 and that the Division of Law Enforcement was planning to hire 10 special agents to fill existing vacancies.


   In 1990 at the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri, one of the refuge officers got a call at home after hours from a local dispatcher requesting back-up assistance for a State conservation agent. The dispatcher said that there were drugs involved. When he arrived on scene, he noticed one suspect was on the ground and another was in his truck while the conservation agent was covering them at gunpoint from the driver’s side of his patrol vehicle. The refuge officer drew his firearm and assisted the conservation officer in handcuffing and searching both suspects. While the refuge officer was driving to his home he saw another vehicle in the refuge after it was closed to entry at night. He stopped this vehicle and began investigating what the vehicle occupants were up to. He saw in plain sight in the vehicle a bag of marijuana. He then contacted the sheriff’s office to begin the process of preparing for a drug arrest. At this point he had one of the suspects standing in front of the suspect vehicle with his hands placed on the vehicle. The suspect began wandering around and then began to walk menacingly toward the refuge officer with his right hand behind his back. The refuge officer drew his firearm and ordered the suspect to show his hands. The suspect stopped and told the refuge officer, "go ahead and kill me, I don’t care!" After several minutes, the suspect finally calmed down, but the refuge officer continued to hold him at gunpoint. The backup refuge officer arrived along with some sheriff’s deputies and the suspect was handcuffed and searched. One of the deputies informed the refuge officer that the suspect had been previously arrested for attempted murder.


   The GAO had identified and determined the adequacy of the 11 laws and 6 treaties that were routinely utilized by the FWS special agents for authority and enforcement related to wildlife protection. "Adequate" may have an accurate description for those 11 laws. What wasn’t mentioned in the report was the numerous wildlife refuge organic acts that all served to provide individual law enforcement authorities for each and every refuge in addition to the general authorities provided in the National Wildlife Refuge Administration Act. All of these FWS law enforcement authorities collectively could only be described as "confusing, complex and inconsistent." The FWS hoped to remedy and clarify this situation by developing some draft language that might be used by the Congress in some introduced legislation. The title of the 1991 draft bill was "Law Enforcement Authorities of Law Enforcement Officers of United States Fish and Wildlife Service." It’s intended purpose was "to clarify the authority of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in regard to law enforcement and for other purposes."


   The draft language was somewhat reminiscent of the failed H.R. 5523 in 1976. In terms of general authorities, the bill would authorized designated FWS law enforcement officers to:

  • Carry firearms;
  • Serve warrants and court process;
  • make arrests;
  • Cooperate with any state or political subdivision in the enforcement of state and local laws and ordinances;
  • Perform any other law enforcement duties specified by the Secretary of the Interior.


   Within National Wildlife Refuges the bill would authorize all designated FWS law enforcement officers to:

  • Maintain law and order and protect persons and property;
  • Conduct investigations for offenses committed within the refuges;
  • Designate local law enforcement officials as special police for enforcement on refuge lands;
  • Have reimbursable law enforcement agreements with state and local agencies.


   Before this "draft bill" could be introduced, H.R. 2360 – United States Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Clarification and Enhancement Act was introduced on June 9, 1993. This bill did not address the law enforcement authorities of FWS law enforcement officers. This bill only required the FWS to establish an Assistant Director of Law Enforcement who shall be the head of the Division of Law Enforcement. But apparently this bill did not receive favorable executive comment from the Department of the Interior and was not moved out of committee.


   Then a different bill was eventually given the short title of "Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement Clarification Act of 1993." It included all the law enforcement authorities that had been in the 1991 draft bill. It was transmitted to the Speaker of the House from the Secretary of the Interior in December 1993. In the transmittal letter, the Department of the Interior stated: "The draft bill addresses deficiencies in the authorities governing the activities of Service law enforcement officers (LEOs), including special agents, refuge officers, and wildlife inspectors." The letter went on to say that refuge officers are often expected to protect visitors and their property, but the refuge officer’s authority to deal with crimes against people and property is limited. Although it was certainly needed for its intended purpose, it would go no farther in the Congress than H.R. 5523 did in 1976. The FWS law enforcement program would have to continue on with their numerous existing law enforcement related statutes.


   On the Mark Twain National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois in 1992, FWS special agents and refuge officers were conducting surveillance on a marijuana cultivation site when two suspects approached the site on foot. One suspect was carrying some packages and the other was carrying a shotgun. The suspect carrying the shotgun spotted the suspects. He turned towards the officers and pointed the shotgun at them. The officers drew their handguns and trained them on the suspect shooting at him, "Police. Freeze. Put down your weapon!" The officers repeated this command several times but the suspect was unresponsive. The suspect finally put down the shotgun and the suspects were handcuffed and searched.


   In the Saxis Island Wildlife Area in Virginia in 1993, a FWS special agent was working with some Virginia state game wardens and Maryland natural resources officer keeping under surveillance an area that was suspected of being used as a decoy and baiting area to attract migratory game birds. After two weeks of surveillance they saw a subject in a boat approaching the baiting area. They watched as the subject placed decoys, set out bait and ultimately illegally shot three ducks using these methods. Then another subject approached the site and joined the first subject in illegally shooting ducks. The officers then made their approach, but the subjects started running away with their shotguns in hand. The FWS special agent began catching up with one of the suspect and yelled "Federal agent, put down your guns!" The closest suspect quickly surrendered. The two other officers took him into custody. The FWS special agent continued to chase the other suspect. When he was within 40 yards, the suspect turned around and pointed his shotgun at the special agent. The special agent fired a warning shot into the air. The suspect ran another fifty yards and finally stopped and dropped his shotgun, raised his hands and surrendered.


   In 1994 on the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge adjacent to the Mexican border in Texas, a refuge officer was contacted by the Border Patrol and asked to respond to a location on the refuge where a smuggling vehicle had been abandoned. Upon arrival the Border Patrol had several smugglers in their custody next to an abandoned van that had been used for smuggling used clothing into Mexico. While waiting for a tow truck, the refuge officer and the Border Patrol agents searched around the area of the van. They soon found another van and as they approached in their vehicle, the refuge officer heard five gun shots and noticed puffs of dust where the bullets were impacting around his vehicle. He drove quickly away from the area. Apparently the shots were being fired from within Mexico in an attempt to keep the officers away from the van.


  In Another 1994 incident, Fish and Wildlife Service employees were making preparations to build a fence at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge to keep Dwight and Steven Hammond’s cattle from trespassing on refuge lands. On the day the fence was to be built, the crew and refuge officials arrived to find that Dwight Hammond had parked his Caterpillar scraper squarely on the boundary line and disabled it, removing the battery and draining fuel lines. When a tow truck arrived to move it, Dwight Hammond showed up, leaped to the controls of the scraper and hit a lever that lowered the bucket, narrowly missing one of the FWS special agents. Steve Hammond shouted obscenities at federal officials.


  On August 5, 1994, Dwight and Steven Hammond were arrested by some FWS special agents and spent two nights in custody. The original charge was a felony, “Forcibly impede, intimidate and interfere with federal officers engaged in the performance of their official duties”.


  On Aug. 10, nearly 500 incensed ranchers showed up at a rally in Burns featuring wise-use speaker Chuck Cushman of the American Land Rights Association, formerly the National Inholders Association. Cushman later issued a fax alert urging Hammond's supporters to flood refuge employees with protest calls. Some employees reported getting threatening calls at home.


  On Aug. 11, Oregon Representative Bob Smith sent a compliant letter to U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt saying, "The acts of your agents last week cause my constituents to lose faith in their government."


  On August 15, 1994, The charges were reduced to a misdemeanor for both Steven and Dwight Hammond, to “Interfering with Government Employees and Private Parties”. Then after three years passed, on July 16, 1997, The “Interfering” cases were dismissed by the U.S. Attorney’s office.  But this would not be the last time that the Hammond’s activities would have a direct effect on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.



   In 1995, an incident would happen that would totally immerse the FWS special agents into the states rights/anti-government fervor. The FWS had coordinated and participated in a program that would result in the reintroduction of gray wolves in the greater Yellowstone area and central Idaho. There was a great deal of political opposition to this in the State of Idaho. The reintroduced wolves would have some degree of protection under the Endangered Species Act. One of these wolves had been killed with a rifle from 130 yards on the Hussey Ranch near Salmon, Idaho. It had been found on January 29, 1995 along side a calf that it had been eating. In the course of conducting their investigation, three FWS special agents confronted 74 year old rancher Gene Hussey on March 8, 1995 with a warrant to search his ranch for the bullet that killed the female wolf. After the special agents arrived, an employee of Hussey’s called to report the incident to the Sheriff’s Office, and Lemhi County Sheriff Brett Barsalou responded. The special agents completed their task of conducting the lawful search.


   In a letter to Idaho’s Congressional delegation, Sheriff Barsalou complained that the serving of the search warrant "was inappropriate, heavy-handed and dangerously close to ‘excessive force.’" The "excessive force" complaint seem to stem from the fact that the FWS special agents were wearing firearms. Although no actual use of force took place. But Hussey had said, "he felt he was outnumbered by three armed agents he didn’t know." After that, Barsalou said he would no longer cooperate in the investigation.


   Congressman Mike Crapo responded to the complaint by saying that the House Resources Committee would hold a hearing on the incident. Crapo said, "I have strong questions about the proper role of federal agents enforcing federal laws without cooperation from local law enforcement agencies." Congressman Helen Chenoweth and Idaho Lt. Governor Butch Otter echoed this and said that they will hold a public hearing "to investigate charges of excessive use of government force by federal agencies." Idaho Governor Phil Batt called the FWS actions "totally irresponsible and overreaching" and requested that the Idaho Attorney General conduct an investigation.


   FWS Director Mollie Beattie met with Idaho’s Congressional delegation and was perhaps a little too apologetic and said that the agents had made mistakes. She admitted that Hussey may have been intimidated and that Barsalou was not consulted. However, the FWS regional office in Portland said, "The three officers conducted themselves in a professional and responsible manner; as is routine practice the officers unobtrusively carried standard issue weapons." Their statement pointed out that autopsies on the wolf and the calf found alongside "indicate that the dead wolf did not kill the calf." The FWS believed that the calf had been stillborn or had died of natural causes shortly after birth.


   Congressman Chenoweth held a public hearing on the "wolf incident" in Boise, Idaho on March 17, 1995. She was quick to call the FWS special agents actions an example of the "Federal government’s use of excessive force" and compared the incident to the Randy Weaver shoot-out with federal agents in North Idaho. She would broaden the scope of the hearing by saying, "Other federal agencies are equally guilty of scaring innocent people."


  A hearing before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Resource Conservation would occur a few days later. Rancher Hussey would make his opinions known by saying "This wolf thing is a farce." He admitted that he had already given the FWS special agents one whole day on his property, but told them that if they wanted to return that they must have a search warrant and the sheriff with them. He said that in retrospect, he thought that he should have just buried the wolf and shut up. He admitted that when the agents showed up with the warrant and the sheriff was not with them, he refused to cooperate and threw rocks at the agents. The Idaho Congressional delegation had all agreed that federal agents should always have to notify the local officials. FWS Director Beattie said that the FWS generally does notify local officials, but in the Hussey case, Sheriff Barsalou "had recently made public statements that led service law enforcement agents to conclude he was no longer interested in assisting on the wolf investigation." So the agents had not notified Barsalou of their task to serve the search warrant. She reiterated that carrying firearms was standard practice and that the agents had not drawn them and left the scene when tensions were high. She said that "if any error was made in this incident, it was not made by our agents."


   Hussey’s local veterinarian told the hearing that he believed the calf died from the shock of being eaten alive. But FWS forensics experts at the FWS Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon had concluded that the calf was stillborn. While ranchers are generally allowed to shoot wolves caught in the act of killing their livestock, it appeared, from the evidence, to not be the case in this situation.


   It would be the FWS special agents that would get the last word on the wolf incident. An Idaho Statesman newspaper article titled Recording Indicates Rancher, Not Agents, Aggressive was published on September 14, 1995. The FWS special agents had made a tape recording of the confrontation with Hussey. The agents said they kept their tape a secret in case they needed to defend themselves in court. It became available to the public only after they closed their investigation without finding the bullet or determining who shot the wolf.


   A transcript of the taped confrontation was obtained by the Post Register in Idaho Falls through a Freedom of Information Act request. The transcript showed that the FWS agents were mostly calm and professional during the exchange with Hussey. The transcript depicts Hussey as the aggressor and far from the helpless old man portrayed by politicians critical of the investigation. It reveals that Hussey called the agents obscene names and "big federal turds," and tried to pelt the agents with rocks. The transcript indicates a foul-mouthed Hussey ready to brawl when the agents presented him with the warrant. The FWS agents had done their job in a calm and professional manner, but local politician’s blew this whole thing up as an example of "Federal government use of excessive force."


   By the mid 1990s, the FWS special agents were consistently placed in the federal government’s occupational series for criminal investigators. Further, the FWS wildlife inspectors were classified into the compliance inspection series. But the staffing and assignment of the "refuge officers" was anything but consistent. For years, law enforcement at the refuge level was the responsibility of many FWS employees. Some were full-time law enforcement, some were part-time law enforcement, some had minor collateral duties in law enforcement, and occasionally seasonal employees were used. The individual refuge managers had the responsibility for making and describing law enforcement responsibilities. This meant that refuge officers could be found that were classified as: maintenance workers; park rangers; police officers; biological technicians; wildlife biologists; wildlife refuge managers; outdoor recreation planners; or like the wildlife inspectors in the compliance inspection series. It was common in the FWS to sometimes confuse the agency’s purposes and missions with the actual duties an employee may be performing. This was especially true for those refuge officers who were primarily performing law enforcement duties. When these refuge officers had opportunities to compare notes on pay grades and other benefits, it would create an appeal rich environment. Many of them would file appeals with the Office of Personnel Management asking for evaluation of their actual duties in classifying their positions. As a result, several full-time refuge law enforcement officers would be reclassified into the police officer series in recognition of the law enforcement duties they were actually performing. One such refuge officer on the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge would even succeed in showing that his position should rightful be granted coverage under the special law enforcement retirement provisions.


   In recognizing the law enforcement duties of the refuge officers, the OPM found that they were uniformed law enforcement officers responsible for identifying and investigating criminal activity on the National Wildlife Refuges. This responsibility included apprehending suspects and violators. This description was key because when the primary duties of a position are in the areas of investigation and apprehension of offenders of criminal laws then the position should be appropriately covered by the special law enforcement provisions. The OPM found that the work of full-time refuge law enforcement officers was a somewhat direct match for the police series, because that series specifically cited as a example those "who are responsible for enforcing State and Federal fish and game laws on Federal installations." So in December 1995, the FWS required a classification consistency review that would result in several of the full-time refuge officers being classified into the police series.


   Once again the FWS special agents would be unduly lambasted for conducting their lawful duties. In Dixie County, Florida on the first day of hunting season, the special agents raided a charity dove shoot and beer blast. Illegal bait had been spread throughout the hunting area. As the special agents arrived, many of the 150 hunters got away. The agents seized 500 bird carcasses and many of those were non-game species. The incident resulted in 86 hunters being prosecuted and were found guilty of baiting and bag limit violations. Among those "caught" at the hunt were four Florida sheriffs, the regional director of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission, state wildlife officers, and local politicians. These influential officials contacted their Congressmen and began an effort to get rid of the baiting prohibitions in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They found a sympathetic ear in Congressman Don Young, then Chairman of the House Resources Committee. Young set up an oversight hearing on the incident that was conducted on May 15, 1996. He invited testimony from many of the hunters who participated in the hunt. The incident would be depicted as "a little Ruby Ridge (RandyWeaver incident) and the FWS special agents were lambasted for being "over zealous." The negative politics of this situation would be such as to intimidate the FWS Director to propose changes to liberalize the restrictions on using bait to attract birds. Congressman Young introduced a House bill to change the baiting prohibition and a Senate bill was also introduced. Neither of these bills made it out of committee.


   Because of their involvement in some of the anti-government fervor of the 1990s, the FWS was included in the GAO report on Federal Lands: Information About Law Enforcement Activities completed in 1997. Among the requesters of this report were Congressmen Don Young and Helen Chenoweth. In this report, the FWS provided under the category of uniformed law enforcement officers that they had 124 (full-time equivalent) law enforcement officers, but added in the remarks that this actually was representative of 650 collateral duty law enforcement officers of which 53 were full-time law enforcement officers. They further provided that they had 85 wildlife inspectors. Under the category of special agents/investigators they provided that they had 241.


   The Commission on the Advancement of Federal Law Enforcement was another initiative that had resulted from the anti-government fervor. This commission (chaired by Judge William Webster) completed their report titled Law Enforcement in a New Century and a Changing World – Improving the Administration of Federal Law Enforcement in January 2000. They had a most radical recommendation. They proposed that the law enforcement functions of the FWS be combined with those of the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service into a new agency titled Resource Enforcement and assign it to the Department of Justice.


   The FWS Director requested The International Association of Chiefs of Police to: "Assess the status of public safety and resource protection provided by refuge law enforcement officers, and make recommendations for the future direction of law enforcement in the System." They would complete their report titled Protecting the National Wildlife Refuge System, Law Enforcement Requirements for the 21st Century in December 2000. They visited 27 refuges and received comments and responses from 550 refuge managers and refuge officers. The law enforcement program consisted of about 650 refuge officers (collateral and full-time) for a system composed of 530 refuges, 37 wetland management areas, and 93.5 million acres.


   They found that law enforcement demands were expanding and visitation to the refuges had increased to over two million visitors annually. This growth was spawning increases in serious crime, other offenses, law enforcement activity, traffic incidents, and staff day/resource commitments to law enforcement. Vandalism, drug abuse, drug cultivation, drug trafficking, drunkenness, weapons violations, illegal alien activity, and liquor law violations were all increasing. Traffic incidents had increased almost 200% since 1995 and by more than half since 1997. Off-road violations were also rapidly increasing. Fourteen refuge officers had been assaulted in the course of their duties in 1996.


   The report stated that the refuge system relies primarily on collateral duty officers who concentrate on non-law enforcement preservation tasks and conduct law enforcement functions when demand occurs. The totality of the 650 refuge officers (both full time and collateral)were assigned to a myriad of occupations such as: refuge law enforcement officer (full time); refuge operations specialist; outdoor recreation planner; police officer; maintenance worker; park ranger; biological technician; and refuge biologists. The refuge officers were made up of three categories.


1. Full-Time Law Enforcement Officers who perform law enforcement functions only. No supervisory positions existed for this class of officer. However, officers with position titles such as Refuge Manager and Operations Specialist perform full-time law enforcement operations and are considered by Project Leaders to be supervisors of the law enforcement function. All of these officers are trained at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

2. Seasonal Law Enforcement Officers have the same authority as the full time officers, but only within the boundaries of the refuge. They cannot enforce the Migratory Bird Act Treaty or attend the basic training course at FLETC. They receive only entry-level training and do not attend in-service or specialized training courses.

3. Collateral Duty Officers are career employees with a job title in other than the law enforcement series. These individuals, who may be biologists, heavy equipment operators, recreation specialists, or small boat operators, are commissioned at the same authority level as the full-time officers and conduct law enforcement work as one sub-set of daily duties. They attend basic training at FLETC and receive in-service training.


   The Chiefs of Police determined that of the total of 650 refuge officers, only about 62 were full-time law enforcement officers who were engaged exclusively in law enforcement activities. The full-time refuge law enforcement officer job is typically assigned to one of two Occupational Series, the Police Series or the Park Ranger Series. The primary duties of employees in the police series are supervision of law enforcement work in the preservation of peace; prevention, detection and investigation of crimes; arrest or apprehension of violators; and providing assistance to citizens in emergency situations, including protection of civil rights. The purpose of police work is to ensure compliance with Federal, State, county, and municipal laws and ordinances, and agency rules and regulations. The primary duties of employees in the park ranger series are to supervise, manage, and/or perform work in the conservation and use of Federal park resources. Duties characteristically include assignments such as: forest and structural fire control; protection of property from natural or visitor-related depredation; control of traffic and visitor use of facilities; enforcement of laws and regulations; investigation of violations, complaints, trespass/encroachment, and accidents; and search and rescue missions.


   The field offices at the refuge level had been assigning the full-time refuge law enforcement officers to these occupational series without apparent justification for the differential classification. The Chiefs of Police thought that the agency should arrive at and adhere to a standard and justifiable practice. They pointed out that 3 previous studies and evaluations on this subject had recommended that standardized position descriptions should be developed for the full-time refuge law enforcement officers. Specifically one previous Refuge Law Enforcement Review prepared in 1992 had recommended that a request and justification be made for full-time refuge law enforcement officers to be covered under the law enforcement retirement system.


   The Chiefs further found that the refuge law enforcement officers hiring process was characterized by a decentralized system and there was an absence of a coordinating function to ensure that effective recruitment takes place or that proper steps (testing, physical exams, psychological exams, background investigations) in the selection process are carried out.


   They found that law enforcement appeared to be regarded as necessary but less vital than a number of other functions. Also that the potential of an enhanced law enforcement function could not be maximized within the present organizational, cultural, and program framework of the FWS. However, interviews with both field managers and officers, demonstrated an institutional readiness to change current law enforcement conditions, including increased emphasis on the addition of full-time officers and elevation to equal status with refuge functions.


   The Chiefs of Police made the following substantive recommendations:


  • Create a Law Enforcement Branch, headed by a Branch Chief. This Branch Chief would be directly supervised by the Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System. The Branch Chief would have full authority to and be accountable for setting broad law enforcement goals and objectives, designing strategies to achieve objectives, and establishing and maintaining policy.
  • Increase the current complement of refuge law enforcement officers with a priority for addition of full-time law enforcement officers. However, the Chiefs fell short of recommending that the collateral refuge officer be discontinued.
  • Create a nationwide central entity responsible and accountable for law enforcement recruitment and hiring in the entire Fish and Wildlife Service.


   The Department of the Interior Office of Inspector General released their report titled Disquieting State of Disorder: An Assessment of Department of the Interior Law Enforcement in January 2002. In their report they identified that the FWS had 201 special agents in the Division of Law Enforcement and the refuge system had 76 full-time uniformed law enforcement officers and 522 collateral law enforcement officers. They found that the relationship between the refuge officers and the Division of Law Enforcement appeared to be one of "you do your thing, we will do ours" in most regions. The only involvement between the two programs was the quasi-supervision of refuge officers by the Regional Special Agents in Charge where they are responsible for the oversight of law enforcement actions by the refuge officers. The recommendations made by the Office of Inspector General that would have the most impact to the FWS were:


  • Establish a Senior Executive Service level Director of Law Enforcement and fill it with an experienced law enforcement professional.
  • Immediately restructure the reporting system for special agents to create line law enforcement authority.
  • For all remaining law enforcement officers, develop strategic plans for the transition to centralized management systems that report to the Bureau Directors of Law Enforcement.
  • Reduce dependence on part-time collateral duty and seasonal law enforcement officers.


   The Secretary of the Interior made decisions on these recommendations in Recommendations to the Secretary for Implementing Law Enforcement Reforms in July 2002. The FWS had already established a senior-level Director of Law Enforcement position for administering its special agents. The decision was made to reorganize all of the special agents to report in law enforcement line authority to this Director of Law Enforcement. Further, the FWS was in the process of creating a Branch of Refuge Law Enforcement to be headed by a branch chief. They were also in the process of implementing other recommendations from the Chiefs of Police report to establish an internal affairs unit, develop centralized recruitment for refuge officers and developing reforms to reduce their dependence on collateral duty refuge officers. The decision was made that the FWS should implement its planned "zone system" for management of the refuge officer program and that this initiative would satisfy the recommendations for "strategic plans" for reorganizing their remaining law enforcement officers and for reducing dependence on collateral duty law enforcement officers.


  The FWS Director issued order number 155 titled National Wildlife Refuge System Law Enforcement Program Reforms on July 16, 2003. The following reforms were so ordered:

  • The Branch of Refuge Law Enforcement will become the Office of Refuge Law Enforcement.
  • Each regional office will establish an Office of Refuge Law Enforcement headed by a Regional Chief, Office of Refuge Law Enforcement.
  • Establish a Refuge Law Enforcement Zone Officer position in each law enforcement zone.
  • The Zone Officers will provide refuge law enforcement program oversight and technical assistance to national wildlife refuges within their zone.
  • All collateral duty refuge officers will become dual-function refuge officers and must spend 25 to 50 percent of their time on law enforcement duties.
  • Law enforcement commissions for higher graded refuge personnel will be limited.
  • A centralized vacancy announcement process will be used to recruit full-time refuge officer positions with review by the Chief, Office of Refuge Law Enforcement.


  The FWS has seen their share of controversy and sensitively about their programs.  But other than a few isolated incidents they had not yet experienced a “standoff” situation as had happened to the BLM. The units of the National Wildlife Refuge System are held in high regard by many members of the public and interests groups and they enjoy a reputation similar to that of the National Parks.  But that would all change in late 2015.  Both the FWS and the BLM had several skirmishes with Dwight and Steven Hammond. The FWS had arrested them for interfering with the building of a fence at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 1994.  The original charges were reduced and then ultimately dismissed by 1997.  The BLM determined that Dwight and Steven Hammond started a fire that ultimately burned 139 acres of BLM public lands in 2001.  In 2006, Steven Hammond started another fire that burned more BLM public lands and actually endangered some BLM firefighters working on a fire that started from a lightening strike.  A BLM special agent from Portland conducted the investigation of these incidents and referred them to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution. 


  In 2012, the Hammonds were convicted of these crimes in a jury trial.  But the judge imposed lesser sentences on them than what is required in the federal sentencing guidelines. The Hammonds served the time imposed.  But the U.S. Justice Department had appealed the sentencing and the 9th Circuit Court agreed with them and mandated that both Hammonds had to serve a full 5 year sentence of imprisonment. In October 2015, Chief Judge Ann Aiken re-sentenced the pair to five years in prison (with credit for time served) and ordered them to return to prison on January 4, 2016.  This required the Hammonds to either be arrested or surrender to serve the remainder of their terms.


  When the time came for them to surrender in December 2015, Ammon Bundy (of Bundy standoff fame) and his followers came to Burns with the idea that they were going to prevent this from happening.  But the Hammonds refused the assistance of Bundy and his followers and quietly went to the Federal prison in San Pedro, California and surrendered. 


  In November 2015, Ammon Bundy and his followers began publicizing the Hammond’s case via social media.  Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne had a meeting with Harney County Sheriff David Ward to detail their plans to hold a peaceful protest in Burns, as well as also requesting the sheriff’s office protect the Hammonds from being taken into custody by federal authorities. Sheriff Ward refused their request to protest the Hammonds from arrest.  Due to this refusal, Sheriff Ward said that he subsequently received death threats by email. What was not known to Sheriff Ward was that they were actually also planning a takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.


  The so called peaceful protest was held in late December 2015 in an attempt to garner support from the local community.  The local community began to look upon the group as outsiders and were not quick to embrace their ideas.  Bundy and his followers then offered their protection to the Hammonds.  But, the Hammonds eventually rejected their offers of assistance and disavowed their activities.  The Hammonds announced their intentions to voluntarily surrender at the Federal Correctional Institution, Terminal Island in California on January 4, as ordered by the court.  A few days earlier, the Hammonds also paid the federal government the remaining balance on a $400,000 court order for restitution related to the arson fires.


  On December 30, 2015, FWS staff members at the Malheur Refuge were dismissed early from work.  With tensions rising on Burns, the supervisor left his staff with the final instruction not to return to the refuge unless explicitly instructed. Meanwhile, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Jon Ritzheimer and some other armed followers separated from the protest crowd in Burns at some point during the day and proceeded to the Malheur Refuge headquarters.  The militants settled into their occupation and set up defensive positions.


  On January 2, 2016, the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge was occupied by this armed group affiliated with the U.S. militia movement. The group then called themselves Citizens for Constitutional Freedom.  Ammon Bundy said he began leading the occupation after receiving a divine message ordering him to do so. They then began to make demands for the Hammond’s release and that the public lands all be turned over to the local residents. While some reports said that they wanted just the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge lands to be turned over to local residents, they may have meant all the public lands in the United States, which would be consistent with their erroneous Constitutional beliefs.  One way or another they were making demands for things that local negotiators could not provide.  The release of the Hammonds would require a Presidential pardon and turning over the public lands would required a Congressional Act.


  The occupation leaders claimed to have 150 armed members at the site.  However, on January 3, a media reported indicated that it was more like 20 to 25 people present at the refuge.  Som as not to cause an immediate conflict, law enforcement kept away from the refuge. During the first weeks, law enforcement allowed the militants to come and go from the refuge at will.  Perhaps they were beginning to realize that their ultimatum was not going to be meet. Because Ryan Bundy said that they would leave the refuge “if the county people tell us to.”  Sheriff David Ward then requested the Bundys and others to leave.  In response, Ryan Bundy said that he didn’t believe that Ward spoke for the county.  In a public meeting on January 6, nearly every person present raised their hand in favor of asking the militants to leave. Sheriff Ward then offered to escort the militants to the county line if they would depart voluntarily. But they steadfastly refused this ultimately offer of some degree of clemency for their illegal act and end the conflict peacefully.


  January 15 saw the first arrest of one of the occupiers when a man was apprehended while driving a vehicle in Burns that had been stolen from the refuge.  This man was none other than Kenneth Medenbach, the same “sovereign citizen” type person who was evicted by the BLM for trespassing on public lands in 1995.


  On January 26, the main leaders attempted to drive two vehicles to nearby Grant County, Oregon, where Ammon Bundy was scheduled to speak at a public meeting.  State and federal authorities used the opportunity to intercept them with a traffic stop on a stretch of Highway 395, situated away from population areas. Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Brian Cavalier, Shawna Cox, and Ryan Payne were arrested on Highway 395 about fifty miles north of the occupation.  During the confrontation, Oregon State Police officers shot and killed Lavoy Finicum while he was reportedly reaching for his gun.  Three others were arrested in separate actions: Peter Santilli and Joseph O’Shaughnessy were arrested locally, while Jon Ritzheimer was arrested by the FBI in Arizona after turning himself in.  So at this point, 10 of the perpetrators were accounted for.


  After giving the illegal occupiers 25 days in which to freely depart from the refuge without arrest as promised by the sheriff, things were now different.  Hours after the arrests on Highway 395, the FBI and the Oregon State Police formed a perimeter around the refuge, and blocked access to it by setting roadblocks.  A federal criminal complaint had already been filed in the U.S. District Court against all those arrested and others still at the refuge.  They were to be charged with conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their official duties through the use of force, intimidation or threats (18 U.S.C. 372).  However there were some still at the refuge that federal authorities did not intend to charge. The illegal occupants were once again invited to leave through the road block check points. Eight people left the refuge and were met by the FBI and OSP at the roadblock. Three more occupants surrendered and were arrested, namely Jason Patrick, Duane Ehmer, and Dylan Anderson, while five others were allowed to leave.  By the following morning a total of 13 perpetrators had been brought to account for their illegal activities.  Only 4 remained at the refuge, David Fry, Sean Anderson, Sandy Anderson, and Jeff Banta. Through his lawyer, Ammon Bundy urged those remaining at the refuge to stand down and go home.


  On February 11, 2016, the final four illegal occupiers of the Malheur Refuge finally surrendered to the FBI after the FBI had closed in upon their position. The FBI arrested David Fry, Sandy Anderson, Sean Anderson, and Jeff Banta. They were taken to Portland to face federal charges. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Oregon said nine more people from six states have also been charged in connection with the Malheur Refuge. Seven of those were arrested on February 11. The total number of people facing felony counts of conspiracy to interfere with federal workers during the Malheur occupation was now 25. After 41 days of armed occupation, the Malheur Refuge had finally been liberated.


  Several of those persons that had been taken into custody had also been at the Bundy Standoff in April 2014.  So it comes as somewhat of a consolation that they were at least being held accountable for this act of violence.  Further, if they get convicted of the felony charges, they will lose their right to possess firearms and there ability to perpetrate further disturbances on public lands.


  Their movement, if it can be called that, has been dependent on local support and especially leans on the County Sheriff’s to supposedly do their bidding against the federal government when they call for a revolt.  But in Harney County, not only did they not receive the support of the local residents, but Sheriff Dave Ward steadfastly refused to assist them in their illegal efforts and purposes. Even the Western States Sheriff’s Association weighed in and said that they did not “support efforts of any individual or groups who utilize intimidation, threats or fear in order to further an agenda.”


  Between February 2016 and September 2016, 11 of the Malheur Refuge illegal occupants took plea agreements for the charges left against them.  Those defendants were Jon Ritzheimer, Joseph O’Shaughnessy, Ryan Payne, Brian Cavalier, Blaine Cooper, Wesley Kjar, Corey Lequieu, Jason Blomgren, Geoffrey Stanek, Travis Cox, and Eric Lee Flores.


  The trial of the first seven of the Malheur Refuge illegal occupancy defendants began on September 7, 2016.  These defendants -- Kenneth Mendenbach, Ammon Bundy, Ryan Bundy, Shawna Cox, David Fry, Jeff Banta and Neil Wampler were found not guilty by the jury on October 27, 2016. The defendants did for the most part spent 8 months in jail awaiting trail.  Further, the judge did not allow them to adjudicate their erroneous belief that the federal government did not have authority to own the public lands.  But the not guilty verdict surprised and stunned many.


  Erik Mohvar of the Western Watersheds Project, would say, “The sad result of this verdict is that it will now be necessary to increase the presence and patrols of law enforcement . . . to assure the safety of rangers, scientists and land managers who are required to travel to remote corners of the west in order to do their jobs.”


  Christopher Ketcham said in his New York Times op-ed on October 31, 2016, “The Bundy’s landed a blow against a culture of public service embodied by the federal employees responsible for maintaining law and order and protecting our wildest Western landscapes.”


  It becomes obvious in the Malheur Refuge incident, that without the help of the County Sheriff and without the backup of the federal courts, the FWS and its allied federal land management agencies are now standing alone when it comes to enforcing and carrying out their duties related to the property clause of the Constitution.


  Seven additional defendants – Dylan Anderson, Sandra Anderson, Sean Anderson, Duane Ehmer, Jason Patrick, Darryl Thorn, and Jake Ryan are scheduled to go on trial for the charges against them on February 14, 2017. On February 6, 2017, Dylan Anderson, Sandra Anderson, and Sean Anderson pleaded guilty to misdemeanor trespassing in exchange for dismissal of felony conspiracy and weapons charges. The Judge sentenced the three to one year of probation and required each to pay $1,000 restitution to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.


  On March 10, 2017, a jury delivered verdicts on the remaining four Malheur occupation defendants. Jason Patrick was found guilty of conspiracy, but not guilty of carrying a firearm in a federal facility. Darryl Thorn was found guilty of conspiracy and guilty of carrying a firearm in a federal facility. Darryl Thorn was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment on November 21, 2017. Jake Ryan was found guilty of conspiracy and of depredation of government property, but not guilty of carrying a firearm in a federal facility. Duane Ehmer was found guilty of depredation of government property, but not guilty of conspiracy.  Sentencing is scheduled to occur on May 10, 2017.


On August 24, 2017, Ammon Bundy, Shawna Cox, Jeff Banta, David Fry, Ken Medenbach, and Neil Wampler were found not guilty on all their remaining charges in the Malheur Refuge Occupation Case. Ryan Bundy was found not guilty of all remaining charges, but a mis-trial was declared in his theft of government property charge. Several of these defendants were held in continued federal custody pending their trials in the Nevada Bundy Confrontation. There is little doubt that these persons did indeed unlawfully occupy the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge offices and visitor center and therefore disrupted Fish and Wildlife Service work and public visitation. Being found not guilty of the available charges is perhaps an indication of deficiency in federal laws and regulations in regards to physical security of federal work places and public facilities.



  On February 15, 2018, Malheur Refuge occupier Jason Patrick was sentenced to 21 months imprisonment and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. Up to this time, he had already served more than 16 months.


  Described in court as the “architect” of the armed takeover of the Malheur Refuge, Ryan Payne was sentenced on February 27, 2018 to over 37 months of imprisonment for his involvement. He also must pay $10,000 in restitution.



  At peak, there were 400 Refuge Officers and 250 Special Agents within the Fish & Wildlife Service.  In February 2017, it was reported that the number of law enforcement employees was at an all time low. There may be a need for a lot more if these officers must provide escort duties to the biologists and/or perform “security guard” duties at the FWS offices and facilities to prevent further illegal takeovers.