Cpl. Rick LaFlamme, one of the stars of the Animal Planet reality television series, “North Woods Law,” can clearly recall the most bizarre case he’s assisted with as a Maine game warden – the discovery of a 6-foot African gaboon viper.

The snake, described as bigger than a fire hose in diameter, was discovered dead along a trail behind Cinemagic Theater in Saco in 2010.

“One of the detectives from Saco PD looked at me and said, ‘I’ve never seen a snake like that in my entire life,’” LaFlamme told about 80 members of the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth, where he was a guest speaker.

According to LaFlamme, not only are the venomous gaboon vipers deadly, but they also are illegal to own in Maine.

“It was as tall as I was,” said LaFlamme. “A snake that size can eat a 120-pound gazelle. It could have easily eaten a kid.”

LaFlamme, of Arundel, grew up hunting, fishing and trapping in Maine and has been a game warden for the Maine Warden Service for 19 years. Before becoming a game warden, LaFlamme served as a patrol officer, pilot and sergeant for the Maine Department of Marine Resources. In May 2014, LaFlamme became the statewide landowner relations specialist for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“North Woods Law,” which is in its fifth season, first aired in 2012. The series follows the elite force of Maine game wardens on patrol as they save lives and fight crime, from busting drunk ATV drivers to catching illegal poachers. While the show’s producer pays the department for filming privileges, wardens do not receive compensation for their TV appearances. And, LaFlamme said, there’s no dramatization whatsoever.

“Like any other show, there’s some editing, but what you see is the real deal,” LaFlamme said.

He said most of the time, “you forget the film crew is there. They basically just tagged along as a shadow. If you were working eight-hour shifts, they were there for eight hours.”

But because of his promotion to landowner relations specialist, LaFlamme opted to sit out on filming for “North Woods Law” regularly. He will make one or two guest appearances in the upcoming season, he said, and has plans to continue to make regular public appearances statewide as a star of the show on behalf of the Maine Warden Service.

“My last big episode was aired during Season 4,” he said.

LaFlamme recalled an episode of “North Woods Law” where a bowhunter in Cape Elizabeth was heavily fined for baiting deer from unmarked tree stands, which is prohibited in Maine.

“We caught the violator, and word definitely spread,” he said.

Other cases in South Portland and Scarborough have included ATV violations, serious cases of littering, snowmobile accidents and injured wildlife, to name a few, LaFlamme added.

The Spurwink Rod & Gun Club holds meetings the first and third Thursday of every month. Guest speakers have run the gamut of law enforcement officials, the Maine Attorney General, a state biologist with the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and others.

“We’ve been trying to get (LaFlamme) for a while but his schedule has been really hectic,” said the gun club’s vice president, Victor Ross. “It was awesome to hear him (speak). He told some great stories and was very entertaining.”

“I’m very honored and proud that Rick LaFlamme would take the time to visit our club with his busy schedule,” said the club’s president, Tammy Walter, a fan of the show. “It was an inspiring moment for our members to have a person of his status visit us.”

Landowner relations

LaFlamme said Mainers are “very fortunate” to have the privilege to hunt and fish on 94 percent of the land in Maine, which is privately owned. Last week, he encouraged members of the gun club to build relationships with landowners so Maine’s younger generations are able to enjoy the land for years to come.

“I’ve gone to other states where you cannot step foot on someone’s property,” said LaFlamme, who has traveled 28,000 miles throughout Maine in the last eight months.

Landowner relations is a topic that Spurwink Rod & Gun Club members have been dealing with for years. Since the mid-1990s, the club has been under fire from nearby Cross Hill Road residents, who have complained about noise and safety at the 60-year-old range. The town of Cape Elizabeth adopted its first-ever shooting range ordinance last March that regulates the operation and development of outdoor shooting facilities in town.

Members of the gun club have also spent the past year trying to mitigate noise and improve safety at the shooting range, including building three, 8-foot-tall concrete partitions, to appease the neighbors and meet ordinance requirements. The club must formally register by April.

LaFlamme has been overseeing the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Outdoor Partners Landowner Relations Program, which promotes Maine land users to become more conscientious and develop relationships with landowners.

According to LaFlamme, the biggest complaint by landowners is illegal dumping of trash; the second biggest is destruction of property, in some shape or form; and the third is lack of respect. He said while “it’s common courtesy” to ask landowners for permission to hunt on their property, it’s also as important to express thanks to landowners, whether through a handshake or by volunteering to pick up garbage, for example.

“Landowners are fed up,” said LaFlamme. “They think no one cares anymore.”

Last fall, every game warden in Maine was issued a Landowner Relations Relief Kit, which contains such items as no-trespassing signs and trail cameras to help landowners resolve issues related to illegal land use.

“It’s the only kit of its kind,” LaFlamme said, citing examples where game wardens used the kits to catch perpetrators. In one case, using a trail camera, a game warden caught two people illegally dumping 17 tires and other rubbish and issued them a fine of $2,000.

“As soon as the game warden saw the picture, he drove up to the guy’s house, and said he wanted to talk about the tires he dumped,” LaFlamme said. “These kits are working. We are here for the landowners, the youth, the future generations. We want to see this outdoor heritage continue for generations to come.”

LaFlamme said Mainers can lose their hunting and fishing privileges for a minimum of a year if found guilty of property damage. Gun club members last week asked LaFlamme questions related to illegal fish stocking and illegal poaching. According to LaFlamme, there are 110 game wardens in Maine. On average, every warden seizes a dozen deer each year that are poached intentionally.

“Intentional poachers, as far as I’m concerned, are the bottom of the barrel,” LaFlamme said. “I will do everything I can to catch them.”

After the meeting, LaFlamme told the Current that “North Woods Law” is not only about showcasing the unique roles Maine game wardens play in the state’s law enforcement, it’s also about raising awareness for kids that “there’s more (to life) than what’s on their computer screens. More kids are saying they want to become a game warden,” he said.

“The biggest thing we promote is getting (people) outdoors,” said LaFlamme, and the “North Woods Law” series has helped with that mission. “Kids see me on TV interacting with people and the animals. They want to experience what’s going on in the show.”

LaFlamme said being a reality TV star has been a fun and rewarding experience, though he still views himself as a game warden just doing his job.

“It doesn’t matter if I am in a ballcap with scruff and sunglasses, or my uniform, I get recognized pretty much anywhere I go,” he said. “People like to relate with someone on TV.”

Maine Game Warden Cpl. Rick LaFlamme takes questions from gun club members during a meeting at the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club in Cape Elizabeth on March 5. Courtesy photoCpl. Rick LaFlamme of the Maine Warden Service is a reality TV star on the Animal Planet series, “North Woods Law.”Photo courtesy of Animal Planet


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