Local game wardens on ‘North Woods Law’
Engel Entertainment, a private video production company out of New York City, first approached Corp. John McDonald, of the Maine Game Warden Service, about doing a reality series about two years ago.
From October to January, their crew filmed game wardens making arrests, issuing summons, working on search and rescue, and enforcing hunting, snowmobiling, ATV and fishing laws, and more.
It all came together when Animal Plant started airing the show for six consecutive Fridays as of March 16.
McDonald said the feedback from Maine to Hawaii has been very positive. Hundreds of hours were spent following wardens on the job from Rangeley to Jackman to Downeast Maine. “It was a fairly small group of folks that came up from Engel. There were less than a dozen people to capture a statewide service. Even though logistically, they couldn’t be everywhere at once, they did a great job.” he said.
Working with production manager, show runner, Devon Platte, McDonald helped determine who and where the cameras would go. Some wardens didn’t want to be filmed, he said. There were a number of logistics involved.
Scott Stevens, Chris MacCabe and Jonathan Park- er, stationed at the Phillips Fish Hatchery, were among those who appeared in the series.
Parker pointed out that at first it was a bit unnerving to be filmed, but that soon went away. They’d try to keep them abreast of what type of situation they were going into, but “you never know what is going to happen. A routine patrol can turn bad in a hurry,” he said. “The potential for danger is always there. You never know who you are dealing with. There can be firearms, drugs; people can be under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both. There’s always the potential for a routine situation to go bad. It’s the nature of the job,” he said.
Game Warden services operate differently in each state. McDonald pointed out that more game wardens die in the line of duty in Maine than police officers. Pilots flying low level in poor visibility, extreme weather conditions, search and rescue missions, murder and ice rescues are among the many dangers game wardens encounter.
That’s one reason why all game wardens must complete 30 hours of training through the Maine Police Academy. They enforce all hunting, fishing and trapping activity, and police all recreational vehicles including all terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and boats. In addition to managing all search and rescue operations, they have general state law enforcement authority and have the training and authority to enforce motor vehicle laws, investigate domestic violence issues, and enforce all other state laws, just to name a few.
The breadth of Maine’s warden service was one reason that Engel Entertainment approached Maine, McDonald said.
While the wardens got used to the production crew, those stopped for summonses or arrests were very curious as to why they were being filmed, Parker said. The crews were prepared. They had a bit of everything, handheld cameras, shoulder mounted cameras and small cameras attached to the wardens’ATVs or snowmobiles. “They were well equipped to get every angle, every shot possible.”
“It was pretty interesting from my standpoint, looking at what they actually do,” Parker said.
The production crew was with him from the beginning of his day to 1 or 2 in the morning, in minus 30 to 40 degree temperatures with the wind chill. “They tagged along with us every working waking moment.”
They went along on the search and rescue for a missing hiker on the Appalachian Trail. They went on night hunting calls. They went to Rangeley’s Snodeo. “An eight- to 10-hour a day job can turn into 48 hours or later with no sleep. And then you’ve got to be ready for the next call,” Parker said. The crews were ready too.
Sometimes Parker was filmed when working alone. Other times he was working mostly with MacCabe; wardens often assist one another in the field. When Engel first approached McDonald, they were not connected with any affiliate. They put together a five minute trailer. Animal Plant picked up the idea, and it went from there, he said.
While the series has drawn to a close, episodes continue to air on Animal Planet. For details about showings visit the website animal.discovery.com.
For more information on the warden service involvement in the series, go to www.maine.gov/ifw/warden_ service/nwl.html.