James (Ron) Bailey
Of my profession and career, I’ve said many times, “I’ve never worked a day in my life.” For me it was never work. It was an early and continuing love – a calling – a privilege – and yes, an obsession. I admit it, I even liked most of my adversaries, the violators. Like it or not, without them the profession wouldn’t exist.
It would be nice to say, “No apologies – no regrets,” but I can’t say that. There are apologies to make and I do have regrets. My apologies go to my family – each and every member. I’m certain they all know how deeply I love them. I’m also certain they each recall all too many times when I placed the job first and them second.
I regret there were times during certain life experiences, I suffered under the illusion my work – my mission – was all I had – all I could rely on. It was most certainly an illusion, although during those times I accomplished some of my best work.
I’ve been blessed with the privilege of working with many wildlife and other resource management professionals. I am convinced they were as deeply motivated as I was to protect our resources. By the same token, I’ve had to tolerate all too many, at both the state and federal levels, who should never have gone into wildlife law enforcement. Everything from a State Game Warden so worthless his own sons petitioned the State Wildlife Agency he worked for to get rid of him, as he’d become a “laughing stock” in his assigned duty area; to an intimidated backup Federal Agent who abandoned me in what he perceived to be a dangerous situation in a Florida swamp. There were too many of the unmotivated, inexperienced, political, untested and self serving who sucked and politicked their way into supervisory positions where they plagued and hindered the performance of good officers. As a darn good federal agent assigned to a southern state commented of a certain individual, “He doesn’t understand our world so he’s trying to cram his world down our throats.” By and large, I had no time for these people. I simply did my best to get around them and dismiss them from my thoughts. However, my contempt for them remains today as it will until I pass from this earth. They were a putrid sacrilege who contaminated the cause and did little more than occupy space.
Another “thorn in my flesh” were the cheap, cheesy politicians. As a Wildlife Enforcement Agent with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, part of my duties included doing background investigations on applicants for the Game Protector Training School. I completed an investigation of an applicant who lied on his application about college credits and prior arrests. Before I finished writing his background investigation report, I learned he was hired, wearing a badge and assigned to a duty station – fresh off the street with no training school and no prior experience. His only “qualification” was the fact he was a member of the “Young Republican’s Club of Ohio.”
How vividly I recall in my fourteenth year with the Ohio Division of Wildlife, I was summoned to the Columbus Office where I was interviewed for a District Law Enforcement Supervisor’s position. My interview went well as the Chief of the Division of Wildlife reviewed my entire personnel file and case record. As a Wildlife Enforcement Agent, I stayed in the top five each year with arrests and convictions. At the end of the interview, almost as I walked out the door, reluctantly he stated, “You’ll need to go back to your home county or the county you live in now and get an endorsement from the County Republican Chairman.” I walked towards the door. I didn’t turn around or say a word – just left. Outside the door I paused and leaned back against the door. I was stunned – fourteen years of service, a perfect work record and I had to get a political endorsement from a County Republican Chairman. I don’t know who that person is in either county, I thought.
Back in Williams County where I lived, my wife Shirley was the County Court Clerk. She told me who the County Republican Chairman was – a downtown realtor. I thought, I’ll play this thing out and see where it goes. I went to see this realtor/County Republican Chairman. I didn’t ask for the endorsement, I simply questioned him as to the “why” of the practice and told him how I thought it “contaminated” state service. With that, he puffed up like a toad and the true political hack he was, came out. “Well, I’ve never heard of you doing anything for the Republican Party here or anywhere else,” he chortled. I ended my visit with that statement, excused myself and left his office, seething with rage.
Less than a year later, I was recruited from the Federal Civil Service Mid-Level Register by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville, Kentucky District to fill a Park Ranger’s position. This would pay much more per year than I was making plus overtime. I accepted the job.
Just before I left for my new federal duty station in Indiana, I went to see the County Republican Chairman again. What I said to him isn’t fit to print. I enraged him so much he followed me out of his office onto the street, exactly where I wanted him. “You think going with the damned Feds is going to save your ass, don’t you Bailey?” the red faced political hack stated. “Well, let me tell you something – there’s a big wind coming and you’d better find a big oak tree to hang on to,” he continued.
“If that big wind you’re talking about gets me, you’d better hope it doesn’t blow me back here because you’re the first one I’ll come looking for,” I responded. I headed for him but didn’t catch him as he ran for his office door and got inside before I got to him. I turned around to see a City Police cruiser pull over and park on the other side of the street and decided to “cool off” and go home.
From making one mistake after another during an entire night catching poachers as a young commissioned Game Protector at age 23; to employing the use of regressive hypnosis to put the finishing touch on a successful after-the-fact investigation, involving a Michigan based deer poaching ring operating in Ohio, as a Wildlife Enforcement Agent, my career with the Ohio Division of Wildlife ended.
Later, as a Federal Park Ranger with the Army Corps of Engineers assigned to Mansfield (now C.M. Harden) Lake, a flood control reservoir in Indiana, an Indianapolis millionaire and big Democrat swore he’d have my job. I had given him a time frame to remove an elaborate encroachment on government property that replaced and destroyed a section of shoreline wildlife habitat. He ignored the notice, as he had many times before my arrival at Mansfield. With a Corps wrecking crew, we ripped out every board and masonry that constituted his illegal encroachment. Soon he phoned me, belligerent and threatening. I calmed him down by telling him, “I thought the way I handled this was better than hauling you into court. If there is a next time, you will be in court.”
The State of Indiana maintained a State Park at Mansfield Lake under a Corps out-grant. Shortly thereafter I entered the State Park Manager’s Office. The Park Manager (a political appointee) was a little Democrat who butchered the English language. “You’d better pack your bags,” he stuttered. He went on to tell me the Indianapolis millionaire Democrat who furnished the building in Indianapolis for the State Democratic Convention each year, had just left his office after bragging to everyone present he was going to have my job.
After learning the millionaire was at his home on the lake, I decided to pay him a visit. The little “politico” State Park Manager assured me I shouldn’t do this as the big shot from Indianapolis was “Italian”, “hot headed” and “knew how to get things done.” Shortly, the “hot headed” Italian answered my knock on his front door. As he stepped outside and shut the door, I stated. “They tell me over at the State Park you’re going to have my job. If that’s true, you’re in essence threatening the welfare of my family. It looks like you and I have something to settle and now is a good time to get it done.” He immediately denied the statements he made at the State Park Office and waffled all over the place, claiming he didn’t want any trouble with me or the Army Corps of Engineers. I wasn’t worried anyway as my “big boss” in the Louisville Office, Fred Huelson, had phoned and congratulated me on getting rid of the encroachment.
I’ll say here and now there was never a time during my tenure with the Army Corps of Engineers working as a Park Ranger, Project Park Manager and Area Park Manager in both the Louisville, Kentucky and Portland, Oregon Districts that I wasn’t backed to the hilt by the “powers that be” as I enforced Title 36, Chapter 111 of the Federal Code that governs the public use of Corps Projects and the various easement, wildlife and parks lease and out-grant provisions between the Corps and other contracting parties. I’ll freely admit some of the actions I took to accomplish the mission were “controversial.”
In 1987, two members of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (the governing body over the N.C. State Fish and Game Agency), one a Democrat, the other a Republican tried, through congressional appeal, to have a Federal Wildlife Agent (and pilot) transferred. Their claim was the agent was deliberately “frustrating hunters and frightening ducks with his airplane.” Specifically, the hunters and duck hunting clubs in Currituck County, where one of the complainants resided and was closely associated with a big duck hunting club.
The Agent/Pilot in question was one of the best Game Wardens who ever drew breath. He not only found their grain baited areas, he landed and caught them and provided every Federal Agent working in Currituck with all he could catch illegally hunting waterfowl over bait. I was the Agent in Charge of the Carolinas where six Federal Agents were assigned. We caught every duck hunting club in Currituck County, some several times. We were always “breathing down their necks” and they couldn’t stand it. On one opening day of the season, not a single club gunned because they thought a “Fed” was behind every myrtle bush – a rumor fostered among themselves. I changed motel rooms three times that night to dodge club operators (three at the door of my first location when I got there) and their phone calls. They asked why I was harassing them so badly and how long I was going to have Currituck “saturated” with Feds.
When interviewed by the press concerning the transfer of the Agent/Pilot, I stated the complaints were baseless and what the real motive behind the transfer requests were; any attempt to transfer the Agent would wind up in U.S. District Court. Then I lit into the two Wildlife Commission members — it was pretty bad. “Ron, I’m not going to print that for your own good – I’ll consider it off the record,” the reporter (whom I knew) said.
I decided this was a good opportunity to find out what the folks in Currituck County really thought about us and the way we did our jobs. I conducted thirty two phone interviews. I talked with every hunting club operator (except the complainants) and every guide I knew – we busted all of them. I was surprised – not one complained about the Feds or the way we operated. Several complained we didn’t stop in and socialize as some agents in the past had done – have a cup of coffee, etc. One club operator stated, “Don’t think for one minute the Wildlife Commissioner from this County speaks for all of us. We know why your plane is up there – you caught us fair and square – keep on doing your jobs.” From that time on I had a respect for the folks in Currituck County I never had before, even though I’m sure I know where I could go this next duck season and make a baiting case.
Actually, there were two Agent/Pilots who flew Currituck bait patrols. Ted Curtis was the one they went after. The other thorn in their flesh was Jerry Sommers, a great Game Warden, who also landed his aircraft and busted them as well as provide the rest of us on the ground with all we could catch.
Agent Tom Bennett, the principal agent assigned to Currituck, directed most of our operations there. Tom cut a swath through Currituck they’ll remember the rest of their days.
Agents Garland Swain and George Hines assigned to South Carolina, were two of the best and toughest Game Wardens God ever made. They periodically came to Currituck, caught who they were assigned to catch and more. In one situation, Garland and assisting Agent Pat McIntosh, lay hidden in the marsh while corn was thrown all over them as the club “baited up” for the next days hunt. Currituck was “old hat” to Agent George Hines. His father, Agent/Pilot Tommy Hines, thirty years earlier, was transferred due to a congressional appeal because he “frustrated hunters and frightened ducks,” when in truth he cut a swath in Currituck, and other coastal counties, never forgotten.
Agent Jack Baker arrived late in my tenure. I soon saw he was a darn good Game Warden. During subsequent years, he proved the fact. In 2006 he won the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Guy Bradley Award – one of the highest awards a Wildlife Officer can receive.
Special Agents Dave Cartwright, Billy Mellor and Charles Bazemore, were a part of the “Carolina’s crew” for relatively short periods of time, before going on to serve as outstanding Agents in other duty stations. They more than proved their worth as routine field patrol “catch dogs”, superb after-the-fact investigators and undercover operatives.
I was blessed with good agents. I regarded them all as “sent from on high.” We had our differences but after we got through “disagreeing”, we once again jelled as a unit and got the job done – not just field patrol – run and catch type operations but also major, after the fact, and covert undercover operations. For a decade as field agents, we were tops nationwide in covert operations working and bringing to justice, the worst and most dangerous of all wildlife law violators – those engaged in illegal wildlife commercialization.
I wrote a complete report, highlighting my thirty two Currituck interviews, concerning the whole issue and sent it to my SAC (Special Agent in Charge) Dan Searcy in Atlanta. He supported us every way he could. For some reason a report from the Senior Resident Agent in Charge wasn’t good enough. The next thing I knew the matter was being investigated by a Fish and Wildlife Service Agent assigned to a western state. I wasn’t allowed to meet with him, pick him up at the airport, furnish him a vehicle – nothing – no contact. I guess he completed his investigation – I was never given a copy of it even when I requested one. I don’t blame the investigating agent – he did what he was assigned to do. I regard the whole approach as underhanded and no way professional. It sticks in my craw yet today. I’ll always believe there was an “element” in the Washington D.C. Office, for whatever reason, had a “thing” about the southeast region. I’ve heard a rumor as to why this situation existed; however, I’ll leave it at that – a rumor. I do know our boss in Atlanta, Dan Searcy, put all the Carolina Agents in for the “Honor” award. However, the “powers that be” in the Washington Office chose to give the award to an agent who completed a case that didn’t begin to approach the magnitude of our “Operation Rock”, a covert investigation into the illegal commercialization of strippers or “rock fish” in North Carolina, Virginia and reached to the seagoing luxury liners in the Atlantic. There is more to this story but I’ll stop at this point.
From out of the blue, came a letter from former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director, Lynn Greenwalt, in full support of the North Carolina agents. It was a scorching document that “set the hair” on this same Currituck “faction,” who during Mr. Greenwalt’s Directorship, pressured him politically and incessantly to transfer certain agents in North Carolina who did their jobs. Director Greenwalt, in spite of it all, supported his troops who worked Currituck then as he was now supporting Agent Ted Curtis and the rest of us. He sent copies of his letter to “all” concerned. His letter was unexpected and hit the “faction” square between the eyes. I hope he realizes how much it meant and the lasting results he accomplished.
As it all turned out to his everlasting credit, North Carolina Congressman, Walter Jones, Chairman of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee, whose Fish and Wildlife Sub-Committee had “oversight jurisdiction” over the Fish and Wildlife Service (and to whom the two N.C. State Wildlife Commissioners complained) supported my agents and me 100%. Floyd Lupton, the Congressman’s Chief Administrative Aid, a former N.C. Wildlife Officer and superb wildlife undercover operative, called me and stated, “Ron, you and your troops are doing a good job down there – keep up the good work. As far as the Congressman is concerned, it’s a dead issue.” I might add, Floyd Lupton is a brother to Warren Lupton, who was a Fish and Wildlife Service Agent in Charge of North Carolina. Agent Lupton preceded Senior Resident Agent, John Minick whom I replaced. The Congressman, Floyd and Warren Lupton, helped me on several occasions when ridiculous budget cuts prevented us from putting our aircraft in the air (a fixed wing and a helicopter), our patrol cars on the road and our boats in the water. I contacted the Congressman through Floyd and/or Warren only when I had to, but when I did, the aircraft went up, the patrol cars went on the road and we launched the boats. Congressman Jones won the highest award the National Wildlife Federation presents. Both his and Floyd’s framed photo hang in my home today. They are two exceptions to my “cheap cheesy politician rule.”
With the mention of wrong training priorities, poor goal absent program management, non-prioritized budget constraints, worn out, inadequate and out dated equipment that continually plagued the profession in that day and time; I’ll stop writing about the negative side of it all.
Now my thoughts return to the beginning – to a childhood dream and fantasy that came true – back to my beloved Ohio where as a youth, I found and came to know my Creator. Not in a church, synagogue, tabernacle or temple, but under Ohio skies in his magnificent, sanctified wilderness with its woodlands, hills, prairies, wetlands, creeks and rivers and among his wild creatures therein.
I’ve heard war veterans who experienced and survived many of the worst battles say, “There are no atheists in battle.” Some go into battle believing they are atheists but soon become “believers” when the chips are down and they know they may soon “belong to the ages.”
I never met a good Game Warden or Park Ranger worth his salt who was an atheist. It’s not just the dangers of the profession – all he (or anyone) has to do is look at God’s wilderness – the wild places and “up” to the heavens, to know he is real. If, after witnessing his creation, you come away a non-believer, I can only say, “May He have mercy on your soul.”
My stories in the text, I consider career highlights. More are un- written. Of those, some untold. Of those untold, some will so remain. However, I am by nature, a story teller and a would-be poet. Perhaps someday – – – – .
Lord willing, if one or more issue of this publication sells, any financial gain due the author will prayerfully find its way to those in need through Franklin Graham’s Sumaritan’s Purse.
Now dear reader come with me, as based on true-life experiences past, I tell of a destined crusade long ago — battling those who would pillage, destroy and lay waste our God given wildlife legacy.
Ron Bailey started at the Olentangy Wildlife Research Station at Delaware in 1953. He later served as Spring Valley Wildlife Area Mgr, Union County Game Protector (old District 6) and Wildlife Enforcement Agent (District 2). Ron entered the Federal Service in 1968. Retired from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service as Special Agent-in-Charge of both North and South Carolina in 1992. He had fourteen years with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.