Dorothy’s unconventional career path led her to serve and protect the U.S. wildlife and plants through policies and regulations.
Dorothy Wayson is the National Policy Manager for the Lacey Act Program in Plant Protection and Quarantine, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS). Dorothy is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has worked at APHIS for 34 years. She provides national coordination and scientific leadership on the regulations, policies, and governing directives for APHIS’ implementation of the Lacey Act.
The Lacey Act is the United States’ oldest wildlife protection statute serving to combat illegal trafficking of wildlife, fish, and plants. In other words, it makes it unlawful to import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration. The Lacey Act is one of the most powerful tools for U.S. agencies fighting wildlife crime and it sets a precedent for the global trade in plants and plant products.
Dorothy's responsibilities also involve capacity building with other federal agencies and with timber regulators in foreign countries. She also communicates with U.S. stakeholders and industry representatives. Her role as a policy manager is essential for providing the right policies and procedures and ensuring compliance.
“I aspire to make some changes to APHIS policies and regulations that will impact the incidence of trade in illegally sourced plants and wood products. In addition to forest degradation and mismanagement, illegal logging is linked to corruption and terrorism abroad, and undermines global markets, Dorothy says”
Dorothy’s love affair with agriculture started when she worked on a Gypsy Moth survey program for the Maryland State Department of Agriculture while she pursued an Associate Degree in Arts and General Studies. She worked with a forestry major who taught her to recognize the life stages of this invasive pest and the preferred tree species. This experience fostered Dorothy's appreciation for the field of agriculture which led her to her first job at APHIS.
Dorothy expresses that when she started work at APHIS, she had no idea what she wanted to do. “It was an entry-level position and I typed permits and processed applications for importers of plants and plant products. Over time, I learned more about the code of federal regulations and became a Permit Specialist.” She also had to conduct literature searches and to issue permits to researchers, scientists, and lobbyists for widely distributed insects and plant pathogens. A permit specialist is a crucial part of reviewing and processing license and permit applications and verifying that permits are in accordance with policies and procedures.
Surround yourself with those who inspire you
As part of Dorothy’s many responsibilities, she worked closely with plant pathologists and entomologists. Their passion drove her to take courses at the University of Maryland, including entomology and plant pathology. This knowledge opened opportunities for Dorothy to represent APHIS at scientific conferences and to present on permitting issues. She developed informational material, standard operating procedures, and conducted audits on the agency’s business processes.
Dorothy wanted new challenges, so she left the permit office and took a position as an Enforcement Specialist with APHIS’ Investigative and Enforcement Services. Her role in this position explores reviewing investigation reports that documented violations of the animal and plant regulations and statutes. Dorothy also verified case files for legal sufficiency, determined civil penalties, issued settlement agreements, and worked with USDA’s Office of General Counsel to settle cases.
Always keep learning
Dorothy’s ambition led her to pursue a BSc. degree in Business Communications with a minor in Biological Science from the University of Maryland while juggling her work, three children, and partner. She rose through the ranks and landed a position as a Senior Regulatory Policy Specialist. Dorothy planned, coordinated, and led regulatory and strategic projects as well as developed policy and communication and outreach documents. On top of that, she prepared federal orders for emergency plant pest quarantines and coordinated rulemaking plans for new fruit and vegetable market access requests from foreign countries. Staying on top of things, Dorothy also took online graduate courses in the field of environmental science.
Feedback is critical for growth
Dorothy recalls a failed interview experience when she went for a management position at the agency. “She discloses, I drew a blank. To make matters worse, I noticed one of the interviewers had changed her facial expression to a scowl. When she saw me look up at her, she tried to smile.” After her failed interview, Dorothy decided to find ways to improve her interviewing skills. This experience helped her realize the importance of preparation, practice, and most importantly to breathe. The next time Dorothy applied for a job, she asked her coworker to do a mock interview with her. Dorothy mentioned that even today when she prepares for a presentation, she relies on her colleagues to give her honest feedback.
For the past three years, Dorothy has volunteered as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster children. She visits her child regularly, gets to know the people in her life, attends her hearings, and writes a report for the judge. “As a CASA, I want to ensure her right to a safe, stable permanent home. Plus, we do fun things like go to the movies and lunch, Dorothy expresses.”
One piece of advice to students
“You should be proud of all your hard work. I greatly admire my female colleagues who have earned Masters and Ph.D. degrees. Get your degrees before life happens! Conversely, it is never too late! You can continue your education along the way. No one can ever take away your credentials.”
Thank you, Dorothy, for sharing your story with us!
- The Women in Agricultural Sciences (WAGS) Team
You can contact Dorothy via email at dorothy.C.Wayson@usda.gov or on LinkedIn at Dorothy Wayson.
This interview was written by WAGS co-founder Marlia Bosques Martínez.