In his more than two decades with the National Wildlife Refuge System, Jim Hall has literally seen and done it all.
During assignments in Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alaska, Hall has been involved in a major reforestation effort, helped establish a new wildlife refuge, protected endangered species, witnessed many of the wonders of nature, rescued lost hunters, fought forest fires and dealt with those who been illegally fishing, hunting and violating the law on federal lands.
Today, Hall is in a place he never expected to be - sitting behind a desk in Arlington, Va. as the chief law enforcement officer for the entire National Wildlife Refuge System.
Lured to headquarters in 2007, Hall now oversees the work of 400 uniformed officers, ensuring they are properly trained and have the tools they need to enforce the laws designed to protect the natural habitats and wildlife in the 150 million acre system. He also has a key role in emergency management issues and in setting the law enforcement policies.
A hunter, fisherman, hiker and nature lover, Hall said his many years of work in the field have served him well in his current job, providing a broad perspective of the wildlife system and a deep understanding of lives of the law enforcement officers under his supervision.
“I have walked in their shoes and understand what they do on a day-to day basis,” said Hall. “I understand what they are going through and the sacrifices they make.”
Cynthia Martinez, deputy chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, said law enforcement officers at the refuges are often the only government representatives visitors ever meet. She said they need to have a passion for wildlife conservation, a rapport with the public, an understanding of those who inadvertently violate the law, and an ability to deal with serious lawbreakers.
She said Hall brought all of those qualities to the job when he was in the field, and today “brings that understanding in helping implement national policies.”
Hall said that at age 12, he was hunting on the Piedmont National Wildlife Refuge in Macon, Ga. with his father when their licenses were checked by the one of the refuge’s officers. “I was so impressed by the officer, I made the decision at that point to pursue a career in wildlife management and to someday become a federal wildlife officer,” said Hall.
Hall began his career as a tractor operator at Harris Neck National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia in 1989, became the refuge manager for Harris Neck, Blackbeard Island, and Wolf Island refuges in 1990, and received his law enforcement commission a year later. Harris Neck is known for its saltwater marsh, grasslands, woodlands and many different bird species such as egrets, herons and mallards. Blackbeard Island provides protection for endangered and threatened species such as the loggerhead sea turtle, wood stork and piping plover, while Wolf Island is a migratory bird sanctuary.
As deputy refuge manager at the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi from 1994 to 1998, Hall was involved in protecting the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, among other tasks. He said the staff carved out nesting areas in trees for the woodpeckers, a job that could take the birds two to three years to accomplish. “We called it government subsidized housing,” he joked.
Hall became manager for the St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Mississippi in 1998, where he helped lead a 10,000 acre reforestation effort, and later helped establish the Cat Island National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana in 2000, home of the National Champion bald cypress, the largest tree of any species east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
He also spent seven years as deputy manager at the 1.92 million acre Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. In this job, Hall was involved in tagging brown bears, stopping an illegal salmon fishing operation, fighting forest fires, and thwarting an organized effort to kill bears and send their gall bladders to South Korea for use in aphrodisiacs.
Although his job has required dealing with lawbreakers of all stripes, his work also has been concentrated on protecting wildlife, expanding natural habitats and helping people enjoy the land.
“A career in managing a national wildlife refuge and being a federal wildlife officer is the best job in the world,” said Hall. “You get to work in amazing places and see amazing things.”
This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to www.servicetoamericamedals.org/nominate to nominate a federal employee for a Service to America Medal and http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.