Many of us aspire to climb the career ladder to bigger and better jobs… more prestige, more power, more money. Not Linton; he retired as Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield Fish and Wildlife Administrator. He understand the importance of installation natural resources management and the need to work at it for an entire career to truly take care of the land and its wild inhabitants, and most importantly, ensure that the conservation program helped sustain the military mission.Linton Swindell, with a BS in Biology from GA Southern University, began his career at Fort Stewart, Georgia as a gardener in the Fort Stewart Buildings and Grounds Division on November 21, 1972. Forty-three years later (March 31, 2005) he retired…. a long haul, but what a trip for this conservation installation superstar.
In 1979 Linton became the Chief of the Fish and Wildlife Section, Land Management Branch, Buildings and Grounds Division. Sounds impressive…. “Chief.” Well, considering that he was the sole permanent employee, he understood that with 279,270 acres to manage at Fort Stewart and another 5,457 at Hunter Army Airfield, he had a long, uphill haul in front of himNot only lots of acreage, but lots of really tough issues. The military mission was one of Defense’s most destructive… heavy armor, land-nasty equipment and tactics. In those days military commanders pretty much had the run of the land. And tank commanders had a mindset that didn’t particularly consider wildlife and its habitat.
Then, there was the rapidly emerging legal requirement to protect and restore populations of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. Fort Stewart was one of the highest priorities for RCW restoration. The RCW required mature longleaf pine, the primary forest product, and cash cow, for the Forestry Division. That’s right; Fish and Wildlife was a Section of the Land Management Branch, Buildings and Grounds Division, while Forestry was its OWN Division. In those days foresters on most southern military installations ruled the natural resources roost, and Fort Stewart was no exception. Frictions were so bad between wildlifers and foresters in the South that the case could be made that the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association got its start as a means to give fish and wildlife managers an equal place with foresters and agronomists at the natural resources table.
Add to that needs of a major hunting and fishing program, inconsistent and often ineffective wildlife law enforcement, and the growing demands of taking care of ecosystems instead of just deer, quail, and bass. Linton had more than his share of challenges to face.
And face them he did! By the end of 1979, he added Pete Moore and Tim Beaty as Biological Technicians and later Wildlife Biologists, and in 1981 followed with Tom Bryce to take care of the fisheries aspect, one of the few fisheries professionals in Defense. Within a relative few years (and tons of bureaucratic BS), Linton saw his lowly section grow into the Fish and Wildlife Branch on an equal status with the other land management disciplines. Gradually, his staff grew to over 20 permanent positions with a dozen or more additional contractors and interns. Game Management, Fisheries Management, and Endangered Species Management sections were born, and Linton saw to it that Pete, Tom, and Tim became official supervisors of their respective sections, no small administrative hurdle.
As Linton would readily admit, the team of Swindell, Moore, Bryce and Beaty for over 30 years was key to the entire program. How many of us would have loved to have the stability and talent of Linton’s crew?
Linton recognized that the natural resource manager in the field made things happen. As the administrator behind the desk, he did everything necessary to equip and motivate his team to achieve conservation goals. He not only established the physical organization, but he created an organizational culture of caring for one another like a family, all for one and one for all. In fact, as Tim Beaty likes to say, “our crew often referred to ourselves as the four musketeers in the early days”.
Linton was at the forefront of the late 70s through early 80s wildlife-forestry wars. To work and grow under the strong-arm yoke of the forestry program, and that’s exactly what it was back then…. well, that was a tough task unless a person sold his professional soul to the interest of timber profits. Yet, by as early as the late 80s, the Fort Stewart wildlife and forestry programs were closely aligned… both working towards similar goals, maybe not always in perfect harmony, but both programs recognizing the each other’s needs and looking for ways to support each other’s goals. No particular name for that philosophy back then, but now it’s the well-recognized ecosystem management.
Linton pioneered procedures for using Legacy funds through cooperative agreements with universities and non-profit organizations. He did the same with the ORISE program, which provided opportunities for young scientists to gather data needed to manage one of Defense’s largest natural resources programs at Stewart.
The National Military Fish and Wildlife Association was at the forefront of the Sikes Act wars in the mid-80s to provide coordinated planning for natural resources management and protect federal professional jobs. It was considered an act of treason by some to go outside the chain of command for passage of that bill, but Linton Swindell worked hard for its passage in 1986. It’s tough to put your neck on the chopping block, but he never quivered. And Defense natural resources management was the ultimate winner.
Today, we take the Endangered Species Act as a fact of life to be implemented as one of Defense’s highest natural resources priorities. Not so in the 80s. Fort Stewart was “blessed” as being one of the better places to recover the red-cockaded woodpecker. Linton, was a pioneer in the task of carrying the torch for a bird that was seen as a threat to entire forest programs and the heavy armor mission in general. In hindsight, it is now clear that both the forest management program and the mechanized maneuver landscape are better than they ever were as a result of embracing the ecosystem management principles that are the foundation of RCW conservation.
Look at the results on Fort Stewart. The RCW on Fort Stewart is thriving… having surpassed the population’s recovery threshold and continuing to grow with ZERO restrictions on Soldiers conducting training exercises. Timber products are still being produced… at a profit. Ecosystems are well into the process of being returned to full functionality along with excellent opportunities for hunters, anglers, and other outdoor users. And the mission… well, military trainers have seen that RCW management can actually improve conditions for training heavy armor. And the process of managing those species in need of special attention is being accomplished in a much better working environment, thanks to Linton and his team decades ago.
A program is doomed without adequate funding. Linton recognized that the financial good times of the 80s were coming to an end, especially for game programs. He understood that the days of the Post Engineer paying for hunting and fishing programs were doomed. He pushed hard for significantly higher permit fees, taking tons of heat from hunters and anglers, even from his peers on other installations. Today, it’s hard to imagine the flak coming Linton’s way when a commander or ranking NCO came to Stewart to find permit fees maybe 10 times higher than where he just left.
Today, hunters, anglers, and others have excellent opportunities to pursue their activities at Fort Stewart, thanks to the foresight of Linton Swindell long ago. Compare that to the losing fight of trying to get environmental dollars today to pay for such programs.
Here is a brief summary of a few of Linton’s other accomplishments at Fort Stewart.
He consolidated Wildlife Management and Conservation Law Enforcement into a single Branch for the first time in the history of Fort Stewart.
He established the Fort Stewart conservation program as a leader in Defense.
He hosted field trips for the ITAM Conference in 2001, the RCW Symposium in 2003, and the DoD Conservation Conference in 2004.
He oversaw development of the first truly integrated process for preparation and implementation of management prescriptions for each of the installation’s Training Areas as part of the 2001 INRMP.
Linton's accomplishments were many, but the creation of the Fort Stewart fish and wildlife management organization is his greatest legacy, a legacy that has been constructed and nurtured to last well into the future, even as his “musketeers” hand it over to their successors.
Linton was a member of the Georgia Chapter of The Wildlife Society and the National TWS. He was an early holder of the Society’s certification as a Certified Wildlife Biologist. He was named Wildlife Conservationist of the Year by the Georgia Wildlife Federation in 2001.
Linton Swindell, a charter member of the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association and our Board Eastern Director during 1984-86 was a Past President’s unanimous choice for the Association’s Presidential Award in 1997. Their nomination clearly identified their unabashed feelings about Linton’s qualities.
“… we tend to look for people who stick their necks way out and hopefully come away with heads still attached. We like winners, not kamikaze pilots. We like people who don’t always follow well-trod paths, yet people who use and change the system for the betterment of natural resources on military lands. It’s easy to just thrash away at the inequities of the whole beast. It’s tough to work within it for positive change.
We like people who provide ways for others to follow… even though they may be doing it for their own program’s success…. we like winners… winners who are showing the way for others.”
And Linton filled that bill for our Presidential Award in 1997, just as his continued accomplishments added to those of the that day make him a great choice for the National Military Fish and Wildlife Association Hall of Fame today.
When Tom Bryce had a chance to review this nomination, he stated, “An excellent nomination! Can't add anything to this outstanding summary for a professional who made such an impact in the lives of his installation team members, in the health of the resources, in the advancement of the profession, in the influence of the NMFWA, and in the support of the country's national security mission!”
To again quote co-worker Tim Beaty, “Linton was a leader and a team builder in the truest sense of the word. He inspired those of us who worked for him (he would have said "with" him) to achieve things that we would not have imagined possible. He believed in Thinking Big.”