AUGUSTA — A public records advisory panel plans to discuss the Maine Warden Service’s handling of requests for public documents by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram at its next meeting July 20.

The newspaper has requested copies of the warden service’s communications with the producers of the television show “North Woods Law,” which filmed a warden service raid in the northern Maine town of Allagash, among other documents.

The Right to Know Advisory Committee met Wednesday for its regular meeting and was not scheduled to address the issue. But board member A.J. Higgins, a Maine Public Broadcasting radio reporter, made a motion to take it up when the committee next meets. The motion passed unanimously.

The two legislative leaders of the committee – Sen. David Burns, R-Whiting, and Rep. Kimberly Monaghan, D-Cape Elizabeth – told its members that they would meet later Wednesday with leaders of the House of Representatives and Senate regarding the warden service issue and would report back. Burns said afterward that he and Monaghan would be sending a letter to the newspaper, but he declined to specify what it would say.

The Press Herald submitted Freedom of Access Act requests with the warden service in November 2015 for public records related to a game warden’s two-year undercover operation in Allagash. The investigation culminated in a major raid that was captured on film for “North Woods Law.”

During its six-month investigation of the undercover operation, the newspaper repeatedly sought copies of warden service records, including communications between the agency and television producers. But when the results of the newspaper investigation were published in the Maine Sunday Telegram last month, the warden service still had not released many of the requested public records.


Some additional records were released after publication of the story, but the newspaper continues to negotiate with the warden service for access to all of the public records related to the operation and the television series.

The initial story, titled “North Woods Lawless,” detailed allegations that wardens padded evidence, provided alcohol to people who were being investigated and invented events that did not occur during the investigation in Allagash, which resulted in fines for wildlife law and other violations and short jail terms for several individuals. The undercover agent provided guns, ammunition, transportation and a searchlight to one target of the probe, and shot a deer to encourage the subject to poach, the story found.

Publication of the story prompted a flurry of calls to the newspaper from other suspects in game warden investigations, and subsequent stories detailed that similar undercover operations were carried out in five Maine counties. The warden service has disputed the accuracy of the stories.

At the request of several lawmakers, the Legislature’s Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee questioned the chief warden, Col. Joel Wilkinson, IFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock and state Ombudsman Brenda Kielty about the misconduct allegations and public records concerns raised in the stories. But that committee, which has oversight responsibility for the warden service, took no action.

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