“Wildlife dies without a sound; the only voice is yours,” says retired US Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Rich Grosz in reference to soul-shaping life lessons gleaned as a child while patrolling with his dad, who was himself a larger-than-life federal game warden. Knowing in grade school he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps, Grosz’s federal law enforcement career ran the thin green line gamut–wildlife inspector, refuge law enforcement, special agent. Even in retirement, his passion for wildlife, for waterfowl, and for conservation continues. His candid, matter-of-fact perspective offers meaningful insight into United States wildlife law enforcement at home and abroad.

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Ramsey Russell: Welcome back to Duck Season Somewhere where today I am in Bismarck, North Dakota, meeting with Rich Grosz. Guys, you all listen up, I have got an amazing story. Rich has spent decades throughout all aspects of federal law enforcement as inspired by his dad. You all are going to love today’s topics. Rich, how the heck are you, man? Thanks for having me.

Rich Grosz: Well, I’m glad to see you up here and I’m doing well. The heart’s still beating.

Ramsey Russell: That’s what you said when I came in. I said, how are you? Well, my heart’s still beating. You seem like a young guy to be worried about that.

Rich Grosz: Well, I’m just blessed that it’s beating, let’s just put it that way, I’m on the right side of the grass.

Ramsey Russell: We’ve been talking small talking for a little bit and I’ve learned so much about who you are as a person and who you were as a conservationist and in federal law enforcement. I’m going to lead off with this question spur of the moment. Have you ever been made to feel a bad guy because of the career you chose?

Rich Grosz: I’ve had people that I’ve come in contact with that we had to address issues that attempted to make me feel bad with the career that I chose. But this career was one, in my mind, that was meant to be and it was one that I worked awfully hard to obtain and still feel very strongly about it. So, no amount of talking about how bad I was or any other name that I may have had, other than my birth name, deviated me from the path that I was on.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. At what point in your life, you’re wearing a goose fest shirt? I’ve been to goose fest, I know a lot of them boys up there and it’s where the self proclaimed snow goose capital of the world and they have a week long celebration inviting goose hunters to come and hunt and got a big old goose on the water tower. The local football team is named the Honkers, it embodies North Dakota waterfowl hunting culture, as best I can tell. And I asked you, I said, were you up there undercover or were you up there as a goose hunter? He said, well, I like to hunt.

Rich Grosz: Absolutely. Hunting if done correctly, there’s nothing wrong with it. Poaching is quite a different thing.

Ramsey Russell: How do you differentiate between the two?

Rich Grosz: Staying within the regulations is hunting, going outside of the regulations is poaching. And obviously, there’s various levels of poaching. There are those that are weekend warriors that may make a mistake and then there are those that have the intent to step outside the line and they spend time trying to figure out loopholes in the regulations, they spend time trying to figure out where the officers aren’t and ways to basically cover up what they’re doing.

Ramsey Russell: Intent is the key word. When I think of waterfowl hunting as a lifelong waterfowl hunter, very avid and practiced at waterfowl hunting, it kind of, sort of, I would say at times is a game of errors. I’m thinking of a shotgun pattern. I don’t mean to cripple a bird, but sometimes it happens. And I’m shoot too high, too front, too low and I just think, for example, here’s what I’m trying to lay out to you. I’m sitting on duck number 5, and a pair of ring necks comes whipping through, I swing on the one bird and I kill them both, it happened. I had no intent, but it happens. I have, in my career, been leaving walking out and found a bird that nobody knew was hit and fell 200 yards away. What do you think about a situation like that? Are you able or were you able in law enforcement to differentiate between an error and intent for the average guy or does it matter from a standpoint of law enforcement?

Rich Grosz: Well, dead is dead biologically, it doesn’t matter how you get there. Within a law enforcement view, if I was able to watch you from the beginning to the end and in my mind, you needed one duck to go, you shot one time, two dropped, that would be something that you and I would address when I met you back at the pickup or in the field or wherever we happened to be. It’s an ethical thing in that particular case. And ethics are what you do when you think nobody’s watching.

Ramsey Russell: Amen.

Rich Grosz: And so, I would respect the hunter in that case who picks up both birds, doesn’t step one into the mud or leave one sitting there that he or she obviously knows that they’ve killed and come back out. We would address that. And regulations are written in black and white and in some cases, like the one you just mentioned, they’re to be interpreted in shades of gray. So there is prosecutorial discretion that the attorneys may exercise. There is also law enforcement discretion that an officer can use. That doesn’t mean to use it to circumvent the law, but it’s a fair approach that you would use if you were in those exact same shoes and an officer stopped you.

A Waterfowl Guardian

Well, later on, he coined the phrase, wildlife dies without a sound, the only voice it has is yours. 

Ramsey Russell: You grew up a duck hunter, you grew up a waterfowler, did you grow up here in North Dakota? What are your origins?

Rich Grosz: Well, it all steps back to my father, Terry. He came out of Humboldt State and got employed as a game warden with Cal Fish & Game, they’ve changed their agency name now. But from there in northern California, we moved to Colusa, California and I was still a very young kid. Colusa, California is in the Central Valley, it’s on the north side, which has a concentration of waterfowl, second to none when they’re migrating down. They had a number of waterfowl issues when dad was down there and so he took it to heart to try to correct as much as he could. So, he was gone and he was working. But during that time, I was old enough and it was legal within policy to ride shotgun with dad. So, I rode with him for hundreds, if not thousands of hours, watching what he was doing, talking to him, seeing and hearing and smelling the things that he was seeing and hearing and smelling. And that was really where I think my soul was formed for what I did later on in my career. Following that, I didn’t hunt yet, following that, we moved up here to Bismarck in the early to mid 70s, I killed my first duck, goose and grouse as a kid here in North Dakota. Dad was moving up the food chain with the Fish & Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. And we moved from here to DC, where he took a desk job. From there we went to the Twin Cities in Minnesota and from there to Denver, Colorado, where he finally finished his career. So, I wasn’t a military brat, but working for the government as dad did, we moved every 2, 2.5 years.

Ramsey Russell: Why? Riding with your dad and spending that much time watching him enforce laws, did you ever get a sense of where, what led his heart to specifically law enforcement for Fish & Wildlife? Because there’s a lot of different directions that interest could have taken him.

Rich Grosz: It could have. Dad was born and raised hunting and fishing as a boy, he understood the critters, he got the bigger picture. And coming out of Humboldt state, it just fit his style of living. He wanted to be outdoors, he didn’t necessarily want to be indoors sitting behind a desk. The critters, as I will oftentimes call them, universally, meant a whole lot to him. And the best way for him to express that was to be on the front line and basically answer for the critters.

Ramsey Russell: Why did he feel like wildlife needed answering for or needed standing? Why did they need that guardian, do you think he felt?

Rich Grosz: Well, later on, he coined the phrase, wildlife dies without a sound, the only voice it has is yours. And if you think about that is very much true. If you’re not there to impact the unlawful taking of critters, nobody’s going to know, nobody’s going to hear, the critters are always the one that take it in the shorts, so to speak. And so, he chose, coming out of college to be their voice.

Ramsey Russell: They don’t have a voice, the only voice they have are yours. That’s a heck of a sentence right there. You found your soul riding with your dad and you were showing me some mementos about the agency, about the service, I should say, about your dad, and you said something Rich, that you were on a vision quest of sorts. And that hits home in a lot of different ways, because, number one, you were a hunter, you hunted man, just like everybody listening. You went out with dad, you went out with friends, you duck hunted on this beautiful North Dakota prairie, but you decided to follow in your dad’s foot tracks and get into law enforcement and give them that voice. But it wasn’t a job, it wasn’t ticket writing, it wasn’t cases, it was personal. You wanted to be their voice and that stemmed from your dad?

Rich Grosz: Yeah, it did. I mean, I don’t know what I would have done had it not been for those experiences I had with dad. He was gone a lot doing his job. An average work week was never 40 hours to my old man didn’t exist. He’d get 40 in the first 2 or 3 days and then keep on going. So, the times that I had with him, father to son, it was usually in the vehicle and he was doing what he was doing and I was along for the ride to learn. So, the conversations we had and once again, going back to an earlier statement, the things I had a chance to see, smell, hear, they formed an impression on me. And it’s not just incredibly concentrated waterfowl numbers coming off of a farmer’s rice field or something, which, when they get up, it goes off like dynamite. I mean, the wings all taken off. It wasn’t the breeze that you’d feel from all those wings trying to get up. Those things added to the experience. But it was also the flip side of that coin, when you come upon a scene that dad was one person, you can only be so many places at once. And we may come upon a scene where there might be 50 or 100 dead ducks laying in a rice field and it wasn’t from disease. It was from someone who had pulled a – well, acute toxicity, lead poisoning. It was from someone who, the night before or someone who, the night before, had pulled a drag and those were just some of the cripples that were left out there, the ones that died in the field, knowing that others were still crippled that are crawling off in the brush and later to die and be food for skunks and fox and whatever else found them.

What is a Market Drag?

And you get in front of the waterfowl, and if the wind direction is right, which is perfect, obviously they’re going to take up in front of you, taken off into the wind, you slaughter as many as you can and you pick up what you can and you take them back to your freezer so they’re not being commercialized. But you’re feeding the family or relatives with what you got that night. 

Ramsey Russell: Talk about the drag, because that was a new concept. When you mentioned it previously, you were talking about a freezer drag or a market drag and I didn’t really understand that terminology.

Rich Grosz: A market drag, terminology used back in dad’s day. Dad was coming in on the very back end of market drags, which are one of the reasons why the Migratory Bird Treaty Act actually was implemented.

Ramsey Russell: So when was he coming in? What era are we talking about?

Rich Grosz: Dad came in in the late 60s, very early 70s.

Ramsey Russell: Market hunting existed that late?

Rich Grosz: Yeah. It was dying, but it was still there. There were still birds being trekked from the Central Valley of California into San Francisco, primarily.

Ramsey Russell: Underground markets.

Rich Grosz: Yes. And if you ever get a hold of some of my old man’s books, he’ll detail some of those out in the short stories that’ll get you laughing or crying to where you can’t put the book down, depending on who you are and how you like to read it. But the market drags were still going on. And so, he made it a personal quest for himself to get in the middle of that and he did, with some success. And then you also had freezer drags, which are the same principles that you apply to a market drag, except instead of selling them, they were for families. They would go out middle of the night, typically on a full moon night is when you want to do it. And you get in front of the waterfowl, and if the wind direction is right, which is perfect, obviously they’re going to take up in front of you, taken off into the wind, you slaughter as many as you can and you pick up what you can and you take them back to your freezer so they’re not being commercialized. But you’re feeding the family or relatives with what you got that night. So those were still very prevalent in my dad’s days back in the 60s and 70s in the Central Valley. So you had both, it just depended on which group you ran into. But once again, dead is dead.

Ramsey Russell: I just can’t imagine being a 6 or 7 or 8 year old little boy and my introductions to ducks to include driving up on a scene with 50 or 100 dead ducks that were just a byproduct of a market hunt, I’m a grown man and never seen or done that.

Rich Grosz: I was given a gift that any kid would be blessed to have and the things that I had a chance to see and experience with the old man. And he didn’t candy code it and he would explain it, the good, bad and the ugly. He would tell you the reasons for it and how it became and what they did. And he was very polished in his craft, very polished, because he took it personally. Like I said, he wanted to get in between the bad element and the critters. And so, he knew the critters, he knew the resource, very smart man. You may beat him once, but you’re not going to beat him twice. So he learned very quickly, as he oftentimes said, he had angels on his shoulders. 2 angels, because he’s about 6’5 and about 320lbs. So he’s bigger than the average bear, so he needed two angels. But he got himself into a lot of situations, learned a ton, was lucky not to have perished doing it. Was shot, he learned a lesson on that one. But you’ll have to read the books to get to that story. But the bottom line here is, as a kid who’s very impressionable, we didn’t have computers in those days, when I got home from school, the books went to the corner of the bedroom and I was out with my black lab and a fish pole or a jigging rod or rocks and sticks or wrist rocket, BB gun, I was outside. And basically mom would holler for dinner or when the lights went on, I knew I had to get home. So, I enjoyed being outside. I enjoyed seeing things and hearing things and doing things. And having that opportunity with my dad was an extension of that, where he really crystallized things in my mind as a kid, you’re not thinking about what you want to do as a grown up. But at the ripe old age of about 6 or 7, I knew what I wanted to do.

Ramsey Russell: You knew at 6 or 7 years old, you definitely – Because all little boys want to follow their dad’s footprints, a lot of us do. But you knew right then, this is what I want to do.

Rich Grosz: My mom has a book and a lot of parents probably have this. But there’d be a picture, a class picture of me in kindergarten in 1st grade and 2nd grade, all the way up to 12th grade. And there were a few questions that I’d have to answer. Favorite color, favorite food, what you want to be when you grow up? Well, in kindergarten, because I’ve seen it before and I get to laugh and I wanted to be a fireman.

Ramsey Russell: Everybody do it. Yeah.

Rich Grosz: Well, I realized that wasn’t my cup of tea. So in 1st grade, I wanted to be, I put on there an Indian, a Native American. Well, I was smart enough to realize either that parachute opens or it doesn’t and there’s no in between. But coming into the 2nd grade, I wanted to be a game warden. And all the way through with the experiences that I had with dad, experiences I had by myself, it just crystallized and it started to become something that was all encompassing.

Ramsey Russell: What did your dad think about that?

Rich Grosz: Told me I was crazy. But I think in his heart of hearts, he was proud of it.

Ramsey Russell: Of course, he was.

Rich Grosz: But he told me I was crazy and he educated me on what I would have to do to be successful at it. And that’s not working 40 hours, weeks. That’s putting a lot of your life on hold until you get out of the profession. It was a very demanding and rigorous job and I watched dad do that in North Dakota. When we were here, he was working the easement wars, which is a whole another story. But the times that he was home, I could probably count on one hand. I mean, it was not much, he was gone. He was trying to protect the wetlands in North Dakota from drainage, primarily drainage. But like I said, that’s another story for those that want to get into his books.

Wildlife Wars

And they’re all short stories of his game warden and federal agent experiences. 

Ramsey Russell: Tell me about this book, Wildlife Wars, because I won’t be 5 minutes after this recording, before I’ve ordered it for myself, I want to learn more about your dad, Terry Grosz. How many other books did he write? When did he write them? And stuff like that.

Rich Grosz: Dad wrote these books after he retired. He was a prolific writer. Having dad around a campfire at night was always story after story. And he encapsulated some of these in the books that he wrote. He initially wrote Wildlife Wars because he wanted to have some form of documentation that he could give to his grandkids to let them know what their grandfather had done. As he got to writing these, he realized he had more stories and more stories. And so, there are several books, Wildlife Wars was the first and they’re titled differently obviously, but I don’t have the exact number, but I’m guessing somewhere 8 to 10 books. And they’re all short stories of his game warden and federal agent experiences. So it’s not a book of 300 pages of one story, it’s each story is, I don’t know, 10, 12, 15 pages. And what I used to hear him tell people when they go to book signings is that the wives were oftentimes very grumpy with their husbands because they would end up getting into the book and they wouldn’t come to bed until the next morning or they’d be reading in bed, laughing and waking the wife up. And so, it’s a tremendous read. Dad also went into fiction and he’s got some books that are dealing with basically westward expansion, fur trappers and things of that nature, which are, dad was a historian, and so they’re factually based, but he uses characters, obviously, to move the story along in those books.

Ramsey Russell: I want to ask a little bit more about your dad because you showed me a shadow box downstairs. Tell me about that shadow box.

Rich Grosz: Back when dad was a cow fishing game warden and a federal agent, a lot of the field enforcement stuff resulted in the issuance of tickets, violation notices. Obviously, the more serious violations were charged in federal court under informations or indictments. But the vast majority of the enforcement measures that dad took were tickets. And during this period of time and it’s a 6 year span approximately, dad always wrote his tickets with the pen that I have today, the one that you’ve shown and that pen, which is in a frame right now, he wrote in excess of a million dollars worth of tickets with that pen. So, you can tell by looking at the pen all the shiny surface of the pen has been worn off. The fights and the swamps and everything that – if that pen could talk, we could write a book, that would be forever.

Ramsey Russell: You say your dad was a big man, I’m assuming he’s big and muscular like yourself. Did he ever get any fisticuffs while you were in the truck watching? You ever had to wrestle somebody down? Seriously?

Rich Grosz: I didn’t, because I was the kid that was told to stay in the truck. But, yeah, I’ve watched him handcuff people, I watched people make the mistake of trying to get physical with him, he was an incredibly strong man and it was a mistake. But at any rate, yeah, I watched him get into altercations, I watched him handcuff people, the whole 9 yards. And those were some of the things that tripped my trigger, so to speak, as to why I needed to pick up his torch and keep moving it forward.

A Chase Lake, North Dakota Duck Hunt

Ramsey Russell: Before we get into you moving forward, the torch. Do you remember your first duck hunt? Who you were with? Were you with your dad, Terry?

Rich Grosz: Yeah. It was Chase Lake, which is north central North Dakota, it was a pass shoot. There were two large bodies of water, a high point where dad and I actually found old buffalo wallows. We actually slept in the buffalo wallows that night. But it was taking shots at waterfowl that were crossing over from one wetland to the other. And I ended up killing a smaller Canada goose, now they call them cackling geese. And I killed a pintail and I killed a shoveler.

Ramsey Russell: And you remember it like yesterday?

Rich Grosz: I do. With my mom’s 20 gauge side by side.

Ramsey Russell: So, you’re a young man, you want to follow in your dad’s footprints, go to school, whatever, you get out and you start chasing your job, you end up working for US Fish & Wildlife Service initially or did you start elsewhere?

Rich Grosz: I worked for the Fish & Wildlife Service exclusively. When I got out of Humboldt State with my grad degree, the first place that I was stationed was as a wildlife inspector at the Port of Los Angeles.

Ramsey Russell: What does that job entail?

Rich Grosz: The wildlife inspection program is the thinnest of green lines that the Fish & Wildlife Service has, in my opinion. As an inspector, I also worked at the long beach port, which is a boat port, basically, but they deal with all of the imports and exports of the world’s wildlife. So, I’m not talking just ducks, I’m talking parrots, I’m talking coral, I’m talking tropical fish. And it’s not just the live stuff, it’s dead stuff. It’s parts, products and derivatives of all the world’s wildlife. It’s an incredibly important job and the exposure you get to the world’s wildlife is second to none.

Caring About Worldwide Wildlife

When you look at this, in the world of wildlife and the commercial market that’s there for the world of wildlife, they have the ability to go and kill or take part in the killing of many of these animals, illegally done, endangered, threatened. 

Ramsey Russell: I’m going to ask this question because I kind of sort of know your thoughts and your answer. Because we talked about it beforehand, who cares? I’m being facetious. So what? What business is of America’s to worry about wildlife product elsewhere? It’s not our business. Well, why is it important, Rich?

Rich Grosz: And obviously you’re being facetious and I would disagree with the statement, it is our business. When you look at the United States and how we try to regulate the wildlife, everything that we have in the United States, we try to regulate it, be it timber harvest, be it critters, fish, fur, fin and feather, we attempt to regulate it because we have the resources to do so. When you start looking at the world’s wildlife, it is the world’s wildlife. It may be in Namibia, it may be in Australia, it may be in, pick a country in the world, I don’t care, it’s the world’s wildlife. And as I mentioned before, it dies without a sound. When you look at these other countries, many of them are much poorer than the United States, they’re third world countries. And when a person wakes up in these third world countries, many of them don’t have the luxury of going to a grocery store and using a credit card to go buy whatever it is they want for dinner that night. They’re looking for how can I feed me and my family today? That’s their number one concern. When you look at this, in the world of wildlife and the commercial market that’s there for the world of wildlife, they have the ability to go and kill or take part in the killing of many of these animals, illegally done, endangered, threatened. And they can make much more money during that one commercial adventure than they could working somewhere in that country all year long. When you really look at that, we don’t have that issue here yet. And if I was a person trying to feed my family and that was offered to me, it’s easy for me to stand on a soapbox and say, oh, I wouldn’t do it. Realistically, I probably would, because how else would I feed my family. I mean, at the end of the day, you got to feed the family. So these countries that have the world’s wildlife, they don’t have the regulations, they don’t have the law enforcement arm, they don’t have the ability to do what we have in the United States, we’re very lucky in the fact that we can. So, if somebody does not step up, somebody in this particular case, meaning the United States, who will? And what’s the ultimate outcome if we don’t?

Ramsey Russell: And while we can’t put boots on the ground to protect an endangered species elsewhere, we can regulate the flow of that product into America by Americans or others.

Programs Around the World for Fish & Wildlife

And we got into waterfowl, we got into trophies, the folks that would go to another country and come back and there were crates at the time that you could have driven a VW bug inside the crate and not touch the walls and it would be full of sport taken trophies.

Rich Grosz: Correct. And the Fish & Wildlife Service relatively recently, has also embarked on stationing agents and their families in certain countries and embassies and they work with their counterparts in those countries to help locate these unlawful markets that are going on. And we also now have and we have for probably, I’m guessing, 10 years or so, we’ve got training programs that go on all across the world where we send agents, US attorney’s office, folks, we send them over to countries where they are able to pull together enough money. And sometimes the US helps with that money to where we can put on programs for conservation officers for those countries. So the Fish & Wildlife Service and obviously I’m retired, so I’m speaking from past tense, but the Fish & Wildlife Service is trying to where we can address some of these topics so that we can not only deal with it here in the United States, but if we can get boots on the ground, so to speak there, even though we’re not there all the time, then perhaps we can put a monkey wrench in those operations.

Ramsey Russell: A young man starting his career as a wildlife inspector, thinnest green line, you say, what are some of the things you saw? What are some of the memorable things you experienced? And I’m thinking in terms of eye opening, like, holy cow.

Rich Grosz: You name it, it came into the port of Los Angeles. Los Angeles and New York and Miami, to name a few, seem more wildlife than a lot of the other ports. And so, I’m a country bumpkin at heart, I like dirt between my toes. But to get on with official wildlife service, that’s what I had to do, I was hesitant at first. Looking back on it now, it was one of the better experiences I ever had. Back then, the wild bird trade was still ongoing. People were catching birds from the wild and shipping them to the United States for the pet trade.

Ramsey Russell: Parrots and things of that nature?

Rich Grosz: Hummingbirds, parrots, you name it, it was coming across. And I can’t tell you the numbers of shipments that I saw where I’m just picking a number, there were 200 birds that came across and 100-125 would be dead in transit. There were reptile shipments, live reptile shipments, that you would have a very high percentage dead on arrival for various reasons. I mean, you name it, we had coral shipments. And as I alluded to earlier, we had the leather trade. We had everything from Gucci leather that had crocodile and caiman and alligator on it, to boot companies that would have Varanidae lizard on it. It just came across in quantities that there were probably 7 or 8 of US wildlife inspectors at the port of Los Angeles, we couldn’t even begin to inspect. I mean, if we got 5% inspection rates, that was really good. And that didn’t include individuals coming in from other countries that were wearing endangered species, that had endangered species in their luggage, parts, products, derivatives. It didn’t include the long beach harbor, where you would have these incredibly large boats carrying cargo or containerized cargo. One of the largest shipments I had, that I seized was dry coral coming in for the coral trade for people’s aquariums. And it was 13 containers of dried coral came out of the Philippines and all of it was seized. It was so much, what ended up happening in that particular case is once it was forfeited to the government, we got a hold of some local companies who had barges and they were willing to put all of this dried coral on their barges and they took it out to the Bolsa what it was a Bolsa Chica reef and dumped it back in the ocean to act as fish structure, because it was so much. I mean, that’s 13 containers. If you see the railroad cars and the big squares, the big rectangles that they’re going down the tracks with, that’s one container, we had 13 of them. So this type of stuff was constantly happening. It happened with the tourists, it happened with people that were residents of other country coming to visit. It came in commercial, you name it and it was happening. And we got into waterfowl, we got into trophies, the folks that would go to another country and come back and there were crates at the time that you could have driven a VW bug inside the crate and not touch the walls and it would be full of sport taken trophies. So, we’d have to inspect that to make sure that there wasn’t additional critters in there. It was just on and on.

Ramsey Russell: It’s very daunting going to a foreign country. You’re assuming that the people you’re talking to are on the up and up. That’s all you know. What I know about Africa law, Africa law enforcement, that’s why I hired you. And then there’s a lot of protocols. It’s a myriad of things that goes into import export, it’s a very daunting process. There’s a lot of trust and human error and everything else that goes into this. But did you also experience, not that it mattered, but did you also experience that intent? Look at intent. Could you tell sometimes, were there cases where obviously the intent was to smuggle something illegal versus, man, this poor guy just didn’t know better?

Rich Grosz: We got extra critters that would be wrapped in hide. So that’s obviously purposeful with intent. We would get some animals that would be doctored up to look like, an endangered animal would be doctored up to look like a non endangered animal, so that was obviously intent. Going back to the previous statement I made before, these are third world countries in many cases and the dollar is king. Not trying to offend anyone, but just calling a spade a spade, if you’ve got the money, you can do just about whatever you want in many of these countries. Some people take advantage of it, some people are taken advantage of. A lot of the conversations I’d have with some of these people were ultimately, it’s still your responsibility, this is not catch and release hunting. If you’re pulling the trigger, you have the responsibility of knowing, is it legal? Is it not? Do I have the proper licenses and papers and export permits or do I not? You may trust your guide, your outfitter, whomever it may be, to keep you on the right path, but at the end of the day, it still falls on you.

Ramsey Russell: That’s right.

Rich Grosz: It may be a mitigating factor that your guide, your outfitter led you astray, probably for a little extra money, but at the end of the day, it’s still that person’s responsibility. Like I said, this is not catch and release hunting.

Ramsey Russell: Will for ignorance, I think, is what the – Is that right? Will for ignorance is no excuse.

Rich Grosz: I came across a lot of that where instead of just handing them a little hand compact mirror and telling them to look in the mirror, because that’s the ultimate party that’s responsible. They had excuses for everything but themselves.

Ramsey Russell: Reminds me of a conversation, you’re talking about money in other parts of the world and it’s daunting its round peg, square hole. And when you start talking about some of this wildlife stuff in foreign countries, like you’re saying, man, you’re talking about something kind of, sort of like narcotics. It’s a cash business, it’s a poor country and anything can be bought. We’ve had game warnings on here before talk about, Arab Emirate Nationals coming over here to buy Peregrine Falcon flying back in a private jet, that kind of stuff. But I remember one time on the phone with a man and I do believe this is the last conversation I had with him and he was kind of sort of bragging about going to a remote part of extreme eastern Russia to hunt, his words, no birds. I knew exactly what he was talking about. And I said, you could probably, for that kind of money you’re talking about, you could probably buy a human heart still beaten and for $5 more, they’ll let you pull it out of the man’s chest if you wanted to. I said, those birds are protected. He was talking about stellars and spectacles. I said, those birds are protected and Russia is a part of the Migratory Bird Treaty act. Do you not understand that? There goes your intent. I think the guy knew. But what do you think you’re going to get in an extremely impoverished part of the world like that for $30,000, you could do whatever you want to over there.

Rich Grosz: Exactly. It’s third world countries and its people that don’t have any money or very little. And when you look at the level that we live in the United States today, as compared to those folks over there, we are very lucky to be here.

From Wildlife Inspector to Refuge Law Enforcement

They obviously work a lot of domestic issues and I needed that experience so that I could become one, obviously exposed to those things which would help me later on in life, but two, ultimately, to try to get to the special agent position.

Ramsey Russell: How and when did you make the transition from wildlife inspector to your next job with Fish & Wildlife Service, which was Refuge Law Enforcement?

Rich Grosz: My end game, when I decided to, at a very early age to become an agent, my end game was to become an agent. It’s highly competitive, extremely competitive.

Ramsey Russell: Not many of them.

Rich Grosz: There are not many agents. There needs to be a slew more, in my opinion. But I wanted to broaden my base of experiences as much as I could, to be as competitive as I could, when ultimately I threw my name in the hat, hopefully become an agent. So, I became a refuge officer, Inspectors work the international border and refuge officers, which are now federal wildlife officers. They obviously work a lot of domestic issues and I needed that experience so that I could become one, obviously exposed to those things which would help me later on in life, but two, ultimately, to try to get to the special agent position.

Ramsey Russell: What were your jobs as a refuge law enforcement in those early years?

Rich Grosz: A lot of it dealt with people management. You’ve got people parking in the wrong place or people without life jackets or you do have the wildlife issue, catching too many, shooting too many, doing things with critters that they shouldn’t be, trespassing. It was a vital segment because within the division of refuges, they’ve got a number of refuges, waterfowl production areas, other federal lands that are basically held in trust for the American public. And so, with that, when the American public entrusts to you taking care of that land mass, that’s not only the critters, that’s the people that are also on that landmass. So it was people management and it was also resource management.

Ramsey Russell: How big was your complex and what were some of your primary wildlife issues?

Rich Grosz: The biggest things we had was poaching and it was a lot of archery type stuff, through the fences, through the gates. That’s where we had some issues. I was in an urban refuge, so we had a lot of people issues. But I would also detail off of those to go to more traditional, it’s probably not the right word, but more traditional refuges, ones that were more out in the sticks and would work waterfowl hunters. Primarily didn’t get much into the big game aspect of it. Nothing totally egregious doesn’t mean it didn’t happen and I just didn’t catch it. But it was just a lot of weekend warrior type things for the most part.

Ramsey Russell: Some of those cases, you’re working on refuges and dealing with an average duck hunter, like a lot of people listening and myself. And we talked earlier about intent versus accidentally shot that ring neck or something, or picked up a duck on the way out, dead is dead, I get it. But what do you think is at the heart of a guy like that has the intent to go out onto a public land and maybe shoot a few more ducks or not buy his duck stamp? What’s making that person tick? We could say, well, he’s just stupid, it’s something deeper than that, something more human. What do you think that is, based on your vast perspective?

Rich Grosz: Well, I don’t think you can point a finger at one thing. Humans, all of us. Well, yeah, we’re animals, regardless if we like to think that way or not. We’re all animals and we’re animals of opportunity. As I said before, ethic is what you do when no one’s looking and some people have the ability to say, I’m done, I’ve shot my limit, I don’t need anymore. Some people have the ability to say, that’s too risky a shot or my chances of crippling the critter are too great, I’m not going to take it. Others are quite the opposite. And it could be a number of reasons. Ego, greed, bragging about it, it could be how they were raised with their dads, typically and grandfathers, they’ve been doing it since forever. So, I’m going to continue doing it, it’s how I was born and raised. There’s a number of reasons for it. Everybody’s wrapped just a little bit differently.

Ramsey Russell: So you left refuges and you finally landed the job you started off, I guess, you dreamed of when you were 6 years old, 7 years old, I’m going to be a special agent for US Fish and Wildlife Service, highly competitive field because there ain’t enough of them. What was that like? Tell me, walk me through that. Boom. How did you land a job? Where’d you land the job? How’d you start?

Rich Grosz: Well, the class that I got selected for, our class was of 9 agents, that’s such a tiny number, it’s hard to even fathom. But of the several thousand that threw their name in the ring, I was lucky to be one of the 9 that was selected. So it was an honor beyond an honor, it was a dream beyond a dream. It was something that I was humbled because I went to an undergrad program, I kept my nose clean the whole time, kept on the straight and narrow, but I had an undergrad program in biology and criminal justice, a master’s degree in wildlife management, an inspector for a couple of years, refuge officer for a couple of years and now an agent. So, I had been literally doing everything in my power to obtain this position and I got. It was absolutely elated. And my first duty station was Sacramento, California. And I had very fond memories of that because as a young kid, back when my soul was etched towards wildlife conservation as an agent. Colusa is an hour and a half away, which is where it really all started. And waterfowl is incredibly important in that country, there’s more endangered species than you can shake a stick at also in that country in California. Oh, my goodness. Yeah. Everything seems to go political in California. Some of my cases dealing with vernal pool fairy shrimp and little tiny things that you can’t even hardly see unless someone told you they were there. It’s duck food, basically, if a duck gets into that pond and sees them. But there was a constant pressure with endangered species in California. San Francisco was just in the Bay Area and now you’re dealing with international import export stuff where inspectors are inspecting it. But if these cases start to go into the criminal realm, the agents take over those cases typically.

Ramsey Russell: And what would push it into the criminal realm?

Rich Grosz: Magnitude, scope, intent, agents. What the agent focuses on, it’s not exclusive, but what the agent focuses on is large scale impacts that are negative. So you’re talking commercialization, you’re talking pesticides that are put out to kill large numbers. You’re talking smuggling. We still do ducks like a game warden, we still do some of these other things. But as an agent, at least when I was employed by the service, we were really focused on trying to get into the big stuff.

Ramsey Russell: What are some examples of some of the big stuff?

Rich Grosz: It could be something as simple as guiding and outfitting at a waterfowl club. It could be something like Narwhal tusks that are being smuggled into the United States. Rhino tusks, illegal killing in other countries where that stuff is coming in through smuggling, it’s extremely varied. As an agent, you see the world’s wildlife again. I mean, you deal a lot with your state and your tribal conservation agencies. We work hand in hand with each other. So you get into the domestic stuff, you get into the migratory stuff, like waterfowl, but you also get into that international scope and that’s where the agent is really trying to insert him or herself and be the biggest bang for the buck they can be. You’re looking for that large scale impact.

Ramsey Russell: How important is the money? Because I’m thinking an individual goes out and does something intent, maybe for his own vanity, his ego, his greed, his human nature. But then there’s a money trail in a lot of these situations, I understand it. I mean, it’s bigger than just an individual, am I right?

Rich Grosz: Usually is. I mean, there are times when a ticket is a proper venue if we’re talking about someone stepping across the line. But there’s definitely a movement afoot with certain individuals where you’re right. There is a paper trail, there’s a money trail. With these larger investigations, you always follow the money, you always follow the money because if you end up getting a hold of somebody who’s got an item, whatever the illegal wildlife item is, they just may be the mule or they may be a middle level. And you’re ultimately looking for the biggest fish who’s really causing this to take place.

The Illegal World of Wildlife

The world of wildlife, the illegal dark side of the world of wildlife is when I stepped out, it was second or third in the world for the money, the illegal money that was being made.

Ramsey Russell: Because you want to chop the head off a snake.

Rich Grosz: It’s very much akin to the drug trade or the gun trade. The world of wildlife, the illegal dark side of the world of wildlife is when I stepped out, it was second or third in the world for the money, the illegal money that was being made.

Ramsey Russell: Really?

Rich Grosz: Yes. So it’s not something that one should take lightly, there is a ton of money. And the other thing that has happened within the last several decades is oftentimes these types of investigations are intermixed with illegal guns, they’re mixed with drugs. So, the Fish & Wildlife Service is working with ATF and DEA and the FBI and Customs and all these other 3 letter agencies because we have commonalities. They trip into something and it’s got critters involved, but they’re looking at it for child porn or they’re looking at it for currency violations or they’re looking at it for gun violations, but it’s got wildlife. So we get pulled into the mix or vice versa. We’ve got wildlife that’s going into something else that it’s not our cup of tea, it’s another 3 letter agency’s cup of tea.

Ramsey Russell: Well, an illegal commodity is an illegal commodity and somebody that trades in one can trade in a lot of them.

Rich Grosz: And they’re intermixed because the money is so ridiculous.

Ramsey Russell: The cash money.

Rich Grosz: Yes. But the cash has to go somewhere, that’s why you always follow the money, because eventually it’s going to get deposited somewhere, something’s going to get purchased with it. Everyone would love to have a vault of cash, but a vault of cash is a vault of worthless paper unless you’re doing something with it. So there’s investments, there’s things they’re buying or depositing, there’s transactions and we try to get into that as well.

Ramsey Russell: So, where’d you go from California?

Rich Grosz: At the time, and I was happy in California because I had my ducks, I could do a whole lot of things, but I really enjoy ducks. Probably even have webbing between my toes. But from there I came to Bismarck and August of –

Ramsey Russell: Kind of followed your dad, from California to North Dakota.

Rich Grosz: Yes. And the intent was initially that I was probably going to try to climb the food chain too. But I got to Bismarck and I’m 10 minutes away from hunting or fishing and not that I had a whole lot of opportunities to do so, but means I’m 10 or 15 minutes away from being go time too, as an agent. So, I enjoyed that. And in California, the environment, the natural resources are fewer and farther between than they are in North Dakota. I mean, North Dakota’s got 700,000, 750,000 statewide, Sacramento in and of itself has more than that.

Ramsey Russell: 750,000 what statewide?

Rich Grosz: People.

Ramsey Russell: People. Okay.

Rich Grosz: Statewide.

Ramsey Russell: Okay.

Rich Grosz: Now, I enjoy the critters far more than I enjoy the people, it seems like. So, like I said earlier, I’m a country bumpkin, I like to get dirt between my toes, not asphalt and concrete and sirens and all that kind of stuff. That’s just not my cup of tea. So, I came here and came on as an agent and myself and another agent, Jim Klett, who’s long since been retired, he and I ran the state. And at the time, we did the wildlife issues, but we also really helped refuges coming back again with the easement wars and it’s the burn draining and filling of wetlands where there’s an easement and I won’t get into the weeds with that. That’s a whole another can of worms. But we helped the division of refuges with the enforcement of that. From there, I became a senior special agent still in Bismarck. And after that, I became a resident agent in charge, which is a first level supervisor and initially had north and south Dakota for supervisory tasks. I was also able to get out in the field, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I had one or two inspectors, depending on the time, that were on the northern border, North Dakota and Saskatchewan and Manitoba had administrative staff and other agents. Like I said, there are not enough agents in the Fish & Wildlife Service, in my opinion. At one time, I was also supervising Kansas and Nebraska. So, 4 states.

Ramsey Russell: That’s a big area.

Rich Grosz: It’s a really big area. And when you’re looking at a small handful of agents and this is the west, you got big states and that’s a whole lot of acres with very few people. Custer had better odds, let’s put it that way.

Ramsey Russell: You talked about earlier when we’re talking about your dad, about the work week for law enforcement. So, kids, spell love T-I-M-E. Dad’s working, he’s not working an 8-5, 40 hours week job, he’s working. And you got to ride around with him, spend that time. What kind of work week did you work as a federal agent? What does that entail? What are we talking here?

The Wild West: Working as a Federal Agent for Wildlife

 I mean, it was everything from walleye, deer, bear, ducks, geese, those are the primary issues. 

Rich Grosz: Well, I would work and when I was done working, I would work and usually when I was taking time off, I would work. My dad told me, when is the time that the bad element, the dark element, is not at work? Do poachers take Christmas off? No. Do poachers not work at night? No. Do poachers not work on the weekends? No. So when do you decide not to work?

Ramsey Russell: What did your work entail? Were you working undercover, following up on complaints?

Rich Grosz: Because of my size. An undercover person, ideally is someone who just meshes in with the crowd. Someone who’s just, there’s no feature that you can remember the person other than they were just physically average in everything. I’m 6’7 and I’m about 290lbs, so I’m slightly bigger than the average bear, I tend to stand out. So I would work in the shadows as an investigator and then I’d have agents and sometimes even state officers would come in and work with the agents on covert investigations that I would have. So I would bring counterparts in, let them do the undercover work. So that kept me out of a lot of the UC type activities. I would work with my tribal counterparts, many of the reservations in north and South Dakota primarily are, God slowed down a little bit extra when he made those reservations. The resource and the landscape is beautiful, and tribal law enforcement is even fewer than we are. So I would work with them whenever we would catch wind of something going wrong. I worked with my state counterparts all the time and sometimes it’d be as simple as working ducks, sometimes it’d be roadblocks, other times it’d be covert operations, whatever they needed and I could assist, I would. I worked with my Canadian counterparts, both provincially and federally, and have a number of tremendous friends that I’ve been lucky enough to find in Canada, where we would work stuff, where typically it’s an American, not always, but typically it’s an American that goes north, does things they aren’t supposed to, and then they come back. And the Canadians don’t have that tool to come back into the United States necessarily and do anything. So we would work covertly and overtly together.

Ramsey Russell: Well, primarily migratory bird – now we’re in law enforcement, you’re in law enforcement special agent, you’re dealing primarily in migratory birds and other wildlife. It wasn’t much endangered species activity going on, was it?

Rich Grosz: Fur, fin and feather. I mean, it was everything from walleye, deer, bear, ducks, geese, those are the primary issues. There were other issues that weren’t necessarily endangered, but they were CITES, Convention on International Trade and Endangered Species. So, I mean, there were a number of issues. Eagle issues, which are Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, Migratory Bird Treaty Act, Lacey Act, along with the provincial and federal laws in Canada. So, I mean, there were a host of other issues, but for the most part it was sport caught or sport taken wildlife.

Ramsey Russell: In my little limited world, I’m thinking of guys shooting a few ducks over. Did you ever encounter something more akin to the drags you saw as child? I mean, in this modern day and age, does that stuff still exist?

Rich Grosz: The wildlife violations in Canada are, in my opinion, rampant. The reason for it is, they’ve got quite the resource and they have fewer provincial and federal officers than we have here in the states. So if you don’t have somebody there, once again, wildlife dies without a sound. There were a number of cases when I used to work the border, typically with my inspectors, where you would get – well, I can remember where there was a case where I won’t mention the customs officer, but he got in pretty friendly with some folks out of the southeast and they would bring him bags of shrimp from the southeast and he’d basically let them into the country and we caught wind of this and it was 3 gentlemen and I don’t remember the specific number, but it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 Hungarian partridge over what – they brought in. They were pretty brazen, but that’s because they were expecting to get green lighted at the border and keep on moving through. There were numbers of times and this is not an exaggeration, where I drove a pickup when I was an agent and I would work the border for a weekend with my inspector and because we have chest freezers along the border at the various ports. I would typically take what we would seize in a weekend and I would take it down to my Bismarck freezers so that the wildlife inspectors could still have empty freezers at the border so they can continue to seize things. And there were numerous times I would come back to Bismarck and the bed of my pickup, all the way to the gunnels of the pickup would be completely packed with seized wildlife from one weekend’s detour. It was the wild west for a long time.

Ramsey Russell: Is it still?

Rich Grosz: It’s gotten better, at least when I was working and I think part of it is economy. It’s more expensive to go north now than it was back then. I think part of it is, we were dealing with some of the older hunters and anglers back then and the younger groups may not be as inclined. I think that they have found ways to get around us through leaving it in Canada, they’re still doing it in Canada, which we would get through their notes and various methods. We’d find that they were still doing stuff in Canada, but they’re being smart enough not to bring it in. Some of them are shipping it out of season when we may not be as prevalent on the border. There were numerous times when, during the waterfowl season, a group would come in with their birds. So they had a possession limit, a Canadian possession limit of waterfowl, which is a lot. And then they’d also have 200lbs, 300lbs of sausage. And you’d ask them, well, what’s the sausage made of? Oh, it’s beef, it’s pork, pick an animal other than ducks, than ducks or geese. And I’m an avid hunter, I make sausage. I mean, I’m a good German, I love to butcher things and smoke things and certainly eat things with my size, especially meat. And so, you can tell when BS is being administered quite liberally and you got to call it. And so obviously, that’s a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, it’s a violation of regulations. But then you add that on top of the birds that they’re bringing in whole carcass and it’s quite the number. And a lot of them would work with the various butchers and meat processing places in Canada who would even generate false ingredients labels that they would put on them. So they’d put processed pork and beef and you know, all those other names you can’t pronounce because they’re too long to make sausage. So that’s another example of where that stuff would come through. Or you get waterfowl hunters that would leave a wing attached to a waterfowl carcass, it’d just be the carapace, basically, with the two half breasts with a wing attached. But they’d take breast meat and freeze it to the underneath side of the carapace, hoping that you wouldn’t look and import more than their lawful possession. I mean, it goes back and I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture of humans, because I too am one of them. But we’re all animals of opportunity. And so, over the years, there were numbers of ways that people would try to bring things in. You’d have the trailer home or the mobile home that was coming in and there’d be breasts in plastic bags stuck into the toilet.

Ramsey Russell: Don’t never look in the toilet.

Rich Grosz: Well, we do. There were so many – I mean, you could almost let your mind run rampant, run wild with this saying that would never happen and it probably did. We would find things at all times that after they’re gone and we dealt with it, we’d just shake our head and go, I thought we’d seen it all.

Ramsey Russell: Yeah. I talked to a former state game warden down in Oklahoma one time, and I’ve got this question for you. You worked a long time in law enforcement, right about time you think you’ve seen it, done it all, you see something else. And I asked the state game warden Carlos. I said, Carlos, maybe I live in an echo chamber, but I feel like I’m not in law enforcement, Rich, I feel like, we’re in the year 2022, 2023 people are involved and we’re more conscientious about conservation and about this and about that. I said, don’t you think a lot of the bad old days of guys just going out and with intent, shooting over harvesting and doing this kind of stuff, don’t you think it’s kind of changed? He didn’t say yes or no, Rich. He said, when I was a 15 year old little boy, I’d tear out of my driveway with my brand new driver’s license and I’d squeal tires. He said, you ever hear any tires squeal today? I go, well, yeah. He said, do you think they’ve changed? I said, no. He goes, that’s my answer. What are your thoughts?

Rich Grosz: I don’t disagree with him. I think the face of that animal has changed. It certainly still happens, I do not deny that I was exposed to it during my career. Where I think the face has changed is I think it happens more in other countries. Meaning, go down to Argentina, go up to Canada –

Ramsey Russell: Mexico.

Rich Grosz: Squeal your tires in another country, so to speak, it certainly still happens here. And if people think they’re not being watched, things happen. But I think that it’s changed a little bit, at least proportionally, it’s changed a little bit in that it’s happening more prevalently in places outside of the US, when you’re talking about the large scale, the large scope, the really getting with it, the intent to put down as many as I can, I think that’s where it’s changed. Based on what I was seeing in my career back when I was employed with the service.

Ramsey Russell: We talked about this previously before we started recording, I think in a lot of ways we’re blessed in America with a conservation model. And that conservation model, time and money of sportsman’s going into state and federal agencies and NGOs and a whole ball of wax to build a north American plan. But implicit in the execution of this enviable model, we have law enforcement. And here in this country, we live in 100% black and white letter of the law with enforcement. And where you run into a lot of round peg square holes when you start getting out of that border is the fact that maybe they’re a poorer economy, maybe they don’t have lax laws or maybe they have extremely lax enforcement. We were talking earlier about some of these countries that have, just by nature of their being, the entire society is corrupt by American standards because of the way their government moves and operates and the timelines and stuff and it’s complicated, it’s a very complicated situation. But again, my echo chamber, I don’t get the request that specify an overabundance. In fact, we actually draw some business, I’m thinking from personal experience here, Rich, we actually draw some business from people that say, I’m going to this country and you’re the only person on the Internet that has bag limits. I mean, you specify limits in these countries and we know that it’s not just all you can shoot. I can count on one finger the inquiry I’ve had in the last two years where a guy wrote me an email and said, based on past experience, we expect to pull the trigger 10 to 15 boxes worth per hunt at ducks, to which I didn’t even reply until I was asked in person by the same guy, that same question. I said, sir, passenger pigeons are extinct, in the world of waterfowl, the entire world of waterfowl, there’s nowhere, there’s nowhere that somebody should or can shoot that much. You see what I’m saying? I think that’s one in 2 years of many, many inquiries. So, I’m listening in my echo chamber, but in your world, your perspective, it’s still going on out here to a pretty good tune.

Rich Grosz: It absolutely is. I don’t think it’ll ever quit. We may be able to minimize it to some degree, but it’ll never quit. You’re always going to have that person, for whatever reason he or she feels they have to have that bloodletting, greed, ego, whatever the case may be, money, who knows? Everyone’s got their own reasons where that will continue. And the beauty of this job that I just had with the Fish & Wildlife Service is, it gave me an opportunity by holding those positions. It gave me an opportunity to try to reach out as much as I could and partnering with as many folks as I could to basically be that voice for the critter. Because you go down to Mexico as an example, and it’s a simplistic example, but you go down to Mexico as an example and someone slaughters a hundred redheads in a day’s shoot, well, even someone my size can’t eat a hundred redheads in a day’s shoot. And it’s above and beyond what the regulations call for. And you can stop it right there if you want to take the very simplistic look, but if you look past the tip of your nose and you look at the bigger picture, those redhead come into the United States. Those redhead go into Canada –

Ramsey Russell: Those are my birds, those are my kids birds.

Rich Grosz: Those redhead – Well and that’s where I was going with this, is when I held this job, all 3 of these positions, there were 3 reasons why I went to the job every day and one was for the people that I work with, that’s laterally and not to use the word down in a bad way, but it’s basically the people in the field that I worked with, not so much up above, they’re doing whatever they’re doing, but it was the bonds that I had with those relationships with the people that were boots on the ground that really make a physical difference, that was number one. Number two, I’ve got 3 grandsons right now, I’ve got a fourth in the oven that next month, I’ll have a 4th grandchild and I did it for them. I did it for my kids, I did it for grandkids, I did it for great grandkids, when I’m no longer here, when the heart doesn’t beat, so to speak, like I told you early in this interview and then I did it for the critters. Because wildlife dies without a sound, the only voice it has is yours. So, when you think about that, those 3 things, 1, 2, 3 and maybe the next day, it was 2, 3, 1 or 3, 2, 1, it didn’t matter the order, but it was those three things that each and every day I came to work. And at the end of this, using that simplistic, 100 redheads in a day, they’re taking away from my grandkids and from my kids the opportunity to see things that I had a chance to see at one time. I never had a chance to see a passenger pigeon alive that was taken away from me. And I truly feel that the resource that we have today is not yours and mine, it’s our kids, it’s our grandkids. We’ve already wiped away ours. We’re diving into them, into their stuff now today.

Ramsey Russell: How did social media, which is relatively new, how did social media change your job?

Rich Grosz: Well, legally speaking, it made it a whole lot more complex because of the legal issues surrounding social media, the warrants and subpoenas and what you can and can’t do. But if you step aside of that, in some ways it made it much easier for us because people cannot help but to post and brag and text and all the other things that are out there, they have to speak about it in some form or fashion. And where we don’t have enough people in the field, which is always the best place to be, watching you do or watching a person do something wrong, that’s the best place to be. The further you get away from that, the harder it is to make the case. It can certainly still be made, but more things have to fall in your favor to do it. So social media has given us that chance to be closer to where it happens, through pictures and through statements and things of that nature. I also think though, it’s made it easier for us in some ways, but it’s also added fuel to the fire. And what I mean when I say that is, I see you holding, bragging, talking about whatever it is you’ve just done that steps across that line, now I’ve got to get some.

Ramsey Russell: Become an ego competition.

Hunters in Defense of Hunting

And might modernization of some of the migratory bird game laws make it easier or better for sportsmen to be law abiding and to do right?

Rich Grosz: Yes. And that has fed into this problem with people stepping across the line. In my opinion, it’s not about hunting of the resource to utilize the resource as much as it was back in my dad’s day, my grandfather’s day, if you killed something, you ate it. Today it seems more prevalent to shoot stuff, to video it, to shoot stuff, to get a photograph of it and then now how do I get rid of it? I’m not going to eat. I’ll eat one or two birds, if any, using birds, waterfowl as an example, but then what do I do to get rid of the rest of this? Leave it in the ditch, throw it in the dumpster, just leave it in the field, all these things that project badly on the hunting public, because the second you do something, like I just said, the wasting of these critters that projects really badly on those of us that are trying to do it right. And those people that are on the fringe edge of do I like hunting? Do I not like hunting? Do I speak up about it? Do I not speak up about it? You’ve given them the ability to change their opinion, if they were neutral or even pro hunting, you may have changed their opinion. And now they don’t view the hunting public, not poaching, the hunting public in the same light they may have before, because they see these things and it’s distasteful or it discourages them or they find something like that just wrong because their value system is slightly different than ours.

Ramsey Russell: Got kind of a 2 part question. Part one, what areas in law enforcement, based on your experience, should people has the greatest need moving forward? And part two of this question is, I’m thinking about Canadian just modernized some of their migratory bird game laws. What are their needs? I’m not going to say what needs, but are there needs? So where do we need the greatest law enforcement moving forward? And might modernization of some of the migratory bird game laws make it easier or better for sportsmen to be law abiding and to do right? That’s kind of a 2 part question.

Rich Grosz: It’s a broad question. So, you may have to give me part two later, after I’m done answering part one. Law enforcement needs to – in my opinion, law enforcement needs to focus the majority of their efforts towards the greatest loss of critters. And I don’t care if it’s tree snails, butterflies, ducks, whatever, porpoises, I don’t care, sturgeon, it doesn’t matter. We are too few and far between, way too few and far between to put efforts towards anything but that. Even when we partner up with sister agencies, the state, the tribes, the other countries, the other 3 letter Alphabet agencies, federal agencies, even when we do that on an investigation, we’re way too few and far between. So, when that happens, you have to prioritize and some things may slip through the cracks because of it, which is unfortunate. But we need to focus on the largest detrimental factors that our wildlife populations are facing, whatever that may know. I’m very particular to ducks. I enforce everything. My boss Bob Prikesat before I became a rack, he was my rack, he always told me we investigate everything. The Fish & Wildlife Service, back when I was employed, had 3 different priorities and definitions of what fell within those priorities. And we were told, do the top level priorities first, do the medium level priorities second and do the low priorities third. Well, Bob Prikesat, he said, we’re going to do them all. Nothing drops through the cracks. He had a work ethic similar to me and my dad, a true carnivore. When he smiled, all you saw were canines in his mouth, he was a predator. But the long of the short of it is you have to focus on what’s doing the worst damage to the critters, you got to do that first, because if you’re focusing on something less than that, you’re not earning your paycheck and more critters are dying because of that. So that would be my general answer to the first part of your question. The second question, rephrase for me one more time, please.

Ramsey Russell: Well, the second part of question is, I just got to wondering, because you were talking previously about bringing snack sticks and whatnot back from Canada. I’m asking, when you grew up, your granddad, whatnot, your dad, your granddad, it was all about, hey, I’m going to shoot it, I’m going to eat it. And when I go up here and I can’t because I can’t convert it to snack stick and I’ll tell you this, I must take a sideline. Canada, because that Germany, European and Ukraine makes some great sausage, I don’t bring back even pork and beef, it’s just going to be trouble at customs. But I eat sausage from across that border. Do you see or have an opinion either way of maybe there being similarly to what Canada did to modernize some of their migratory game bird laws? Might there be some benefit to hunting or conservation if we on this side of the border modernize some of ours?

Rich Grosz: I was blessed when I was working to have connections in Washington with our migratory bird program. And part of that was through agents that were desk officers in Washington. And then part of it was my own, where we were able to talk to the migratory bird, the biological side, the migratory bird office and talk to them when they would have ideas or people would petition ideas to, is this good? Is this bad? Where are the pros? Where are the cons from a law enforcement perspective? Having said that, having numerous discussions with them, even though I’m biologically trained, my long suit in wildlife conservation is in law enforcement. Writing regulations without thought of law enforcement implications can destroy law enforcement chances to do anything. So, what I mean by that is, I’ll give you an example. Let’s look at our white geese, our snow geese, they are not going to be controlled by hunting. It’s a warm, fuzzy feeling to think that shotguns are going to control that population. The only way to control those populations is on the wintering grounds or on the nesting grounds. And it’s going to be biological in nature. It’s going to be disease, it’s going to be starvation, it’s going to be something like that, mother nature is going to have to step in or we got what we got. And you can talk to biologists and if they’re straight faced and honest with you, they’ll give you the same answer. So, by liberalizing the regulations and there was lots of discussion, no daily bag limit, shoot until your gun barrel turns red melts. It sounds harmless until you realize what’s also in those populations of white birds. Oh, you have white fronts, you have pintails, you have other ducks, other geese. Well, do we care if you go unlimited on white fronts or pintails? No, we have to have some sort of control. So, we liberalize the daily bag limit and in the case of possession limit, we say no possession limit. From a law enforcement perspective, if everybody was honest and everybody was true and in the perfect world, could we handle that if it was just white geese? Yeah. Go back to my previous statement. Humans are animals, animals of opportunity. So what have I just done to a regulation now? I’ve liberalized it. That does two things. It allows people who want to take advantage of it through mixing of birds, they can do that, it also minimizes the value of the wildlife itself. If you treat wildlife like it’s limitless, nobody cares about it, so that becomes a problem, that becomes a problem with how society views it. And if society views something as it’s sky carp, well, in essence, what you’ve done is you’ve almost demonized a critter. So that may not be law enforcement, but that has to be weighed into the picture in my mind and in my opinion. So we take that same statement that I just said and now let’s convert all these birds, let’s say you get your 50 every day up in Canada, well, pretty soon, my God, you’ve got tonnage of waterfowl. So, I want to convert some of it to sausage. The problem with that is, once again, for those that want to take advantage of this liberalized regulation, I want to get some white fronts mixed in with that. So, I’m not over. So there’s problems with that, as I see it, besides regulatorily, you can’t do it and bring it into the United States legally. There are other problems with it where out of maybe innocent intent by the biological community, they’re trying to give hunters more opportunities. Why? So, hunters have more reason to go buy licenses and they have more reasons to hunt and they have more reasons to continue something that is a dying sport. When you look at the amount of waterfowl hunters over time, we’re dropping and we’re getting older because it’s too expensive, the regulations are too complicated, it’s too hard to learn this trade unless you have an uncle, a dad, a brother, or somebody who teaches you. So we’re losing this. So, I understand the warm, fuzzy feeling and how they’re trying to fan the flames a little bit because that’s money, with money, we can buy habitat, we can fund programs, all these things, I don’t want to make this too big of a discussion because it gets deep, but it also creates problems because, once again, humans, certain humans, will take advantage of these liberalized regulations and that causes problems.

Ramsey Russell: For that reason, does federal law enforcement see, by necessity, hunters maybe in a different light than the rest of us? For example, I’m just going to say this. Many years ago, when I was encouraged to go to FLETC and be federal law enforcement, working refuges, collateral law enforcement, I declined, I did not want to do it. To which he said, why? I said, because I’m Gomer Pyle, I take people at face value, I see them just good, I just see the good. Working as extensively in federal law enforcement as you did and some of the samples you’ve given us today, do you have to approach a situation like that and just suspect the bad until they prove themselves good? Is it that rampant? Does that make sense, what I’m saying?

Rich Grosz: It makes sense, what you’re saying, I can’t speak for other officers, like I can only speak for myself and the people I worked with, state, local, tribal, federal, provincial, on a random stop or a random time for me just to come across somebody, they’re just a somebody, they aren’t black, they aren’t white, they aren’t evil, they aren’t good, they’re just a joke you citizen. And the people that I work with always treated those people just like they would want to be treated if the role was reversed. So, I didn’t look at the hunting community or the fishing community or the trapping community or the import export community, which is doing this for commercial reasons, usually, they weren’t in a dark, I didn’t view them with dark lenses or dark eyes. I mean, until you gave me a reason or somebody gave me a reason to suspect that the line has been crossed, you treat everybody just like you would want to be treated. And the people that I worked with treated people like they would want to be treated if the roles were reversed.

Ramsey Russell: I just don’t see how after decades of wildlife inspection, refuge and federal law enforcement, with a lot of the stuff you’ve seen that you just can’t – I just feel like it would darken me. I feel like I would just expect the worst in people, whether that was intent or not. I just feel like if I had been through just what you’ve walked me through in the last hour and a half, I don’t know if I could look at it the same way. Because you still duck hunt.

Rich Grosz: Yes.

Ramsey Russell: You still accept it and you love it, I’m scared it would jade what I see, that’s all that’s good with hunting and doing this stuff, have walked through and seen this much stuff rampant.

Waterfowl Identification Guides Put to Good Use

Terry Gross, he started teaching waterfowl identification at FLETC back in 1971-1972. 

Rich Grosz: But let me reverse this on you. The first time you’re hunting, I’m an agent, I meet you in the field. First time you’ve ever been checked by me, first time I’ve ever known you. Is it fair for me to paint you in a dark picture?

Ramsey Russell: No.

Rich Grosz: So, would it be fair for me to ever paint anyone in a dark picture until they place themselves into that dark picture?

Ramsey Russell: No.

Rich Grosz: That’s how you have to look at it. I mean, there’s lots of dark stories and it would be very easy to get jaundice and critical of humans because there are lots of folks that step across the line. But you have to treat each and every person like you would want to be treated in that scenario.

Ramsey Russell: Well, riding around in a pickup truck with your dad certainly sent your life on a trajectory, it gave you a vision quest for conservation. I’m going to end this episode talking about how you also followed your dad’s footsteps because you two have put together a book with the help of somebody else. It’s I believe one of the best waterfowl identification guides available. You can buy it at Delta Waterfowl. How did this book come to be?

Rich Grosz: It’s funny you mentioned my dad in the beginning of your statement and I will answer your question in the beginning of my statement to mention my dad. Dad, Terry Gross, he started teaching waterfowl identification at FLETC back in 1971-1972. He started that program up from scratch. As a kid growing up, I had a duck wing collection, I’m kind of weird that way.

Ramsey Russell: Still got one?

Rich Grosz: Well, I’ve got a large one downstairs that I use for training in a monster cooler that I ship back and forth. But the long or the short of it is, I’ve always found the natural resource and I don’t care if it’s plants, animals, birds, fur, fin or feather, it intrigues me. Because the more that you get out of the black box of this is a duck, now you learn that it is a pintail. Then you start to learn about the individualness of what the pintail is biologically. You could pick a fish, you could pick a tree, you could do whatever you want. But when you start to learn about these things, each and every critter is extremely unique in and of itself, they may share similar traits with other critters, but they’re extremely unique. And so, waterfowl, which is my first love, always struck me in awe learning about them. And so, as a young kid, I’d read books on them and I’d listen to my dad and my dad was teaching this. And so sometimes the wings would come home and I’d start to learn about this. So, dad did this until my first year 1998 as an agent, he taught waterfowl ID at FLETC. So, from 1971-1972 to 1998, he was the voice for waterfowl identification at the federal law enforcement training center. And he would teach the states and he’d teach the tribes and he’d teach anyone that would listen that was serious about it. Well, Pat Bosco, the other author to this document, to this guide, came on a few years before me. And dad picked up Pat, because Pat is an excellent person for waterfowl ID. Pat’s like a family member to me. With that, dad stepped out, Pat and I taught all the way until he retired and then I taught all the way until I retired. So, there’s been a Grosz at FLETC, I even taught the year after I retired. There’s been a Grosz teaching waterfowl ID at FLETC since 1971, continuously through 2022. But the information that Pat and I had squirreled between our ears, that was largely learned from dad as well. We used to just verbally give it to the class, and the class would be scribing as fast as they could go. Pencils would be smoking and fingers would be bleeding and everything else. The students who could just go as hard and fast as we would speak because we had so much to cram in a very short period of time. So, Pat and I eventually said, you know, we’re not going to be around forever, let’s memorialize this, let’s get it in a book. Initially, it was for game wardens, so we had game warden things in there as well.

Ramsey Russell: Like what, if you don’t mind me asking?

Rich Grosz: Techniques, some of the tricks of the trade.

Ramsey Russell: Okay. On how to catch poachers and stuff.

Rich Grosz: Yes. Places to look and things to see. Yeah, we had a number of techniques in this guide as well. And then Pat and I got to talking, if a game warden or conservation officer pulls this out of his or her back pocket and is using it to identify something, joke you public’s going to see it and they’re going to want it. They’re going to say, where’d you get it?

Ramsey Russell: Guarantee you.

Rich Grosz: So, with that, we pulled all the law enforcement stuff out and we went straight biological. And this is a collaboration with Delta Waterfowl, they are the muscle behind the guide. Ashley was the girl that put this together, God rest or not God rest her soul, but God thank her for that because she was the one that had all the technical expertise to put this together. But it’s in a guide that is truly meant to be in the field, it’s a very tear resistant paper, it’s waterproof. You can throw this in the bottom of a wet canoe, get blood and mud on it, just wipe it off and go back to work. So, it’s a true guide, not one that’s meant to be on your coffee table. And it points to you where you need to look to help identify things. And there’s a number of training tricks that are in that guide. If you look at the rocker as an example, there’s blue, there’s green, there’s gray, there’s white, there’s brown, there’s a reason for that. There’s a number of things there that if someone purchases this, it will help them. The other aspect of this that I don’t want to lose light on is that half of the money goes to Delta for wildlife projects, for waterfowl projects, the other half goes to Fish & Wildlife Service. Pat and I don’t get a penny. The money that the Fish & Wildlife Service receives from this can only go to habitat acquisition. So, you’re buying dirt in perpetuity. You’re buying dirt when you buy one of these books.

Ramsey Russell: Rich, thank you very much for your time. I have so enjoyed this conversation. Folks, thank you all for listening to this episode of Duck Season Somewhere where I hope, like myself, you all are now asking, how can we give wildlife a voice? See you next time.


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