More than a century has passed since the Lacey Act was first created in 1900. The act created the federal wildlife officer profession. Since that time, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service has had a long and proud heritage filled with true heroes and icons. It has been loaded with countless men and women who have devoted their lives to protecting the world's wildlife resources in an effort to save species from extinction.
One was John E. Perry, who was a U.S. Biological Survey (former name of the USFWS when it was under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture) law enforcement agent, also known as a Game Protector.
He was the founding father of undercover law enforcement activities in the mid-1930s and the first agent to conduct such undercover activities to apprehend waterfowl bootleggers. Many believe that Perry was the first law enforcement officer of any type to conduct covert work, predating the FBI, ATF and DEA undercover operatives.
In this capacity, he took on those who were responsible for marketing in illegal waterfowl in Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana, the Bootheel of Missouri, and other states.
Others that should not be forgotten were Ray Holland, Cecil Pedifer, Willie J. Parker, Fred Jacobsen, Larry Merovka, Anthony M. Stefano and David L. Hall. Whether we call them Lacey Act inspectors, U.S. game wardens, U.S. game management agents or the like, these officers were a brave breed who were determined to halt the disappearance of many animals from the wild, especially migratory birds.
Merovka, the agent-in-charge of Louisiana, employed Pedifer in 1935 as a full-time undercover operative. They effectively infiltrated market hunters and restaurants buying and serving migratory game birds in Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi.
Testifying in federal district court in Memphis on Oct. 4, 1939, Pedifer said, “I estimate I got no more than 10 percent of birds which were sold on the Memphis market. They are shot and shipped to Memphis, New Orleans, Chicago and have been shipped as far as New York.”
In 1952, the USFWS employed full-time undercover operatives called “criminal investigators.” These men, their wives and children were required to live under assumed names and employed as salesmen, photographers, and you name it.
During the early 1950s, Tennessee organized a “flying squad” which was comprised of experienced agents throughout the state. On Jan. 20, 1955, 18 of the most notorious “duckleggers” in west Tennessee were arrested and charged with selling, taking and possessing over the limit of ducks.
The war against migratory bird market hunters continued. Anthony M. Stefano, using the name Mark DeMarco, was well-known as the “peanut man” by numerous unfortunates who sold him over 20,000 ducks during four major undercover operations between 1954 and 1961.
He traveled the Mid-South states acting as a wholesale peanut salesman for “Mr. Tom's” peanut company. One of his largest waterfowl undercover efforts went down in five states on May 5, 1961. One hundred sixty-one were arrested: 82 in Louisiana, 52 in Arkansas, 15 in Maryland, six in Virginia and six in North Carolina. He was rewarded when he received a Superior Performance Award.
Stefano said afterwards, “You can be sure they will have nothing to do with peanuts.” As one market hunter said in the paddy wagon, “I never want to see another peanut as long as I live.”
David Hall, a native of Jackson, Miss., and Slidell, La., was employed as a special agent with the USFWS for 33 years, from 1962 to 1995. In addition, his writings and photographs won awards and frequently were featured in outdoor recreational publications.
During his career, he was responsible for supervising federal law enforcement programs in seven states, and conducted undercover investigations from Alaska to the East Coast.
As a federal warden once said, “Pinning a badge on a man does something to him; his mental outlook has to adjust to the responsibility and authority vested in him.”