February 8, 2012

Don Perkins: New game warden on the job

Last April, Emily Bastian saw a recruitment poster for the Maine Warden Service and thought it would be a good idea to apply.

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New Gloucester native Emily Bastian has joined the Maine Warden Service.

On Jan. 13, the New Gloucester native was sworn in at Augusta after finishing the 18-week Basic Law Enforcement Training Program at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro, the same training would-be police officers take.

Bastian has been out in the field shadowing another warden around southern tip of Sebago Lake since then. In May she'll begin the Advanced Warden Academy, a specialized 12-week program teaching the ins-and-outs of law enforcement and search & rescue in the Maine woods.

"(Being a warden) is something I've always considered," she said. "It's always been in the back of my mind."

Bastian, 26, is no stranger to the outdoors. She graduated from Gray-New Gloucester High School and then studied wildlife ecology at the University of New Hampshire. For the past seven years she's worked in the hunting and fishing department at L.L. Bean. Bastian worked with loons in New Hampshire, and also did outreach for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

And she's had some wanderlust. While studying at the University of New Hampshire, Bastian went to New Zealand for a semester where she did some field-based research.

"That gave me the urge to travel," she said. "Last summer I took a leave of absence from my job and went out west by myself. I spent three months in Montana and Wyoming basically living out of my car -- just camping, fishing and hiking."

Bastian will be traveling once again upon completion of her final stretch at the warden academy; she'll be off to her new post in Aroostook County, covering a district near the New Brunswick border.

"Because the population is lower up there, I'll have a large district to cover," she said.

According to the Maine Warden Service website, there are some 124 uniformed officers in Maine. Started in 1880, the Warden Service is the largest department of Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. In 1881, a Maine game warden earned $25 a year. Any additional compensation came from a portion of the fines they assessed. Today, game wardens can earn almost $25 an hour -- entry level salaries range from about $36,000 to $48,000 a year.

And there has been drama over the years. In 1932 a warden was shot in the leg and beaten while trying to apprehend a car load of violators. In 1935 two wardens jumped on the running board of a fleeing automobile while attempting to stop them for night hunting. They grabbed a gun from a passenger which caused the gun to go off. A fight broke out and the wardens smashed the windshield. One warden was subsequently knocked unconscious with a flashlight and fell to the ground. The other warden smashed the other side of the windshield and then removed the keys from the moving vehicle. Two men were apprehended; one got away.

In 1944, the Warden Service was called to capture two groups of escaped German prisoners of war held in Maine.

These days, wardens must deal with evermore modern issues like snowmobiling. Over the January 21 weekend there were seven snowmobile accidents.

"Three were fatalities," Bastian said. "I wasn't called to any of them, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time."

Bastian said the Warden Service sees patterns in a winter like this. With a slow start to the snow-season everyone's anxious to get out once a little powder comes. Alcohol is often a factor, too.

"We try to specialize in enforcement of that issue," she said.

Bastian is eager for her 12-week stint at the Advanced Warden Academy in May, which will be taught by seasoned wardens.

"A big part of what we're focusing on will be search & rescue and outdoor survival," she said. "I'm really looking forward to that."

An entire week will be devoted to river rescue with plenty of time in cold, spring white-water. Emergency vehicle operation will also be covered. The cadets had some of that training in police cruisers during their basic law enforcement training; however, Bastian will be doing the second round in full-size, four-wheel-drive pickup trucks the wardens use.

"It's going to be incredibly hands-on," she said. "They'll be a lot of scenario-based training."

"It's exciting; it's a dream come true for me. I finally figured out what I want to do with my life -- protecting natural resources and helping people."

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:

presswriter@gmail.com


Correction: This story was revised at 11:34 a.m., Feb. 8, 2012, to correctly spell the name of Emily Bastian. 

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