On a September morning in 2011, Rick LaFlamme was called to Portland for a report of a bear roaming the city’s East Deering neighborhood.
LaFlamme, a game warden with the Maine Warden Service, had to determine what he could do to protect the bear, commuters, schoolchildren and others the animal might encounter.
He judged the bear to be agitated and aggressive. Given the populated surroundings and his limited options at the time, LaFlamme made a decision.
He shot it.
It’s the kind of decision that LaFlamme and other Maine wardens make often as law enforcement officers patrolling huge swaths of territory where man and nature often are at odds. But that particular decision was caught on camera by a film crew from the Animal Planet show “North Woods Law,” which begins its second season Thursday with the first of 10 new episodes that will run into April.
Shot entirely in Maine, “North Woods Law,” follows wardens around the state as they search for missing people, track illegal hunters, go on drug raids, free trapped animals or enforce ATV regulations.
LaFlamme and other wardens who have been involved in the show feel it has been good for the warden service, because it has helped people understand what they do and how difficult the job can be.
“Shooting that bear was not the outcome I wanted, but by seeing that, people see the kinds of decisions game wardens might have to make any given day,” said LaFlamme, who’s 39 and lives in Arundel. “In the built-up world, we’re dealing with conflicts like that more and more. I’ve been excited about this show, because I think it’s educating people about what we do. It’s even making young kids want to be wardens.”
The Maine game wardens have become celebrities of a sort since the show began airing on the cable channel last year. LaFlamme has been recognized in many places, including restaurants and an airport in Philadelphia.
Sgt. Tim Spahr was stunned when he attended an event at the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray last year and saw people waiting in line for hours to meet him and other warden stars of “North Woods Law.”
“I can just imagine if somebody is really famous, how hard that must be,” said Spahr, 53, of Kennebunk. “The reaction has been very strong, particularly from young people who are maybe getting to see what wardens do for the first time.”
“North Woods Law” episodes have been shot at all times of the year and in every part of Maine.
The show is produced by Engel Entertainment, a production company that has made documentary series for Discovery, Travel Channel and History.
The company wanted to do a show with game wardens in Maine because it seemed like “uncharted TV territory,” said Jessica Winchell Morsa, the show’s executive producer.
“It’s a very special and unique place, with the accents, the people, the seasons, the terrain — there’s just a lot there,” said Morsa. “And the job of a game warden there is so interesting.”
The Maine Warden Service agreed to do the show only after researching Engel Entertainment’s other shows, and deciding that the production company would likely present a straightforward look at what the wardens do, said Cpl. John MacDonald, the liaison between the service and the show.
He said other proposals for “reality” shows based on the wardens were rejected.
The state doesn’t get any money for cooperating on the show, but MacDonald said it’s a valuable educational tool.
“We wanted to highlight the mission of the service and help people understand what we do; what the difference is, for instance, between a warden and a forest ranger,” he said. “So we weren’t interested in a show that would have re-enactments or exaggerations. We thought (Engel) would strike the right balance for us.”
The 95 or so field officers of the Maine Warden Service are basically “off-road law enforcement officers,” said MacDonald. They attend the state’s police academy and a warden academy, and are armed in the field.
They work within the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, so they enforce laws related to hunting and fishing, and do all sorts of law enforcement in natural areas — where other law enforcement officers aren’t as well equipped or trained to reach.
So in terms of fodder for a show, “North Woods Law” offers a lot.
On one upcoming episode, Spahr must investigate deer traps set up to protect an illegal marijuana patch. Another episode will feature wardens searching for a boy lost in the woods. Thursday’s episode was shot last summer, and includes encounters with ATV riders and a search for an alligator.
For most episodes, wardens are followed by two camera operators and a field producer, said Devon Platte, the show’s co-executive producer and a Portland resident whose past credits include “The Amazing Race” for CBS.
Platte said trust is an important part of the relationship between the crews and the wardens. He thinks the episode focusing on LaFlamme and the bear illustrates that trust.
Crews were going to meet LaFlamme around 9 a.m. that day, but he called them around 4:30 a.m. to alert them to the bear.
“We have to keep up with the wardens, not slow them down, and show them they can trust us,” said Platte. “Early on, I think we figured that out, and it’s worked out for everyone.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: