The Merritt System
How one federal officer unintentionally achieved a unique status
Different paths lead each of us into a career in the outdoors. What started as a chance sighting of a poster during her college days at the University of Wisconsin, and a subsequent trip to Alaska, became the catalyst for Rebecca Merritt to earn the unofficial title of becoming the one and only known permanent female law enforcement officer to wear the badges of four different federal natural resource agencies.
Merritt’s upbringing near the small farming town of Silver Lake, Wisconsin, where family vacations meant hunting, fishing and hiking, instilled in her a love for the outdoors. Yet in her early years neither a career in natural resources nor law enforcement ever seriously crossed her mind. With both parents being in law enforcement, hearing their “war stories” at home convinced her she wanted none of that. While attending the University of Wisconsin she initially steered her studies towards medical microbiology and immunology. Then one day during her senior year she spotted a poster from AmeriCorps, the national community service organization, offering adventure and partial student loan forgiveness to those who would volunteer for six months. The opportunity took her to the Tongass National Forest in Alaska for a job as a seasonal interpretive ranger. “When I saw the mountains, glaciers and bears it flipped a switch,” Merritt said. From there, her path turned sharply towards a career in natural resources. Upon returning from Alaska, she completed her studies at Western Washington University where her degree became a blend of biology and natural resource management.