Maine Warden Commander Shuts Down Undercover Operations

Commander Joel Wilkinson says he has shut down the undercover operations to protect the safety of the wardens

Maine Game Wardens have gone from reality TV stars to subjects of a legislative inquiry.

Lawmakers held a hearing Wednesday morning to investigate the tactics used during an undercover investigation and raid in Allagash, Maine, featured in an episode of "North Woods Law" on the Animal Planet.

The hearing comes after a six-month investigation by the Portland Press Herald, which alleges an undercover agent supplied alcohol to hunters, padded evidence and broke wildlife laws.

Colonel Joel Wilkinson told lawmakers he has suspended all undercover operations because the newspaper published the name and photograph of the agent in question. Colonel Wilkinson said he does not plan to investigate the matter any further.

"This has ramped up emotions unnecessarily and unfairly to good people that work in the organization," said Wilkinson.

Lawmakers questioned officials from the Department Inland Fisheries and Wildlife about the role the reality show may have played in the raid.

"I can assure you that there was nothing done for the show in this case, to enhance it for the show," said the Colonel.

But the Warden Service was also questioned about an outstanding Freedom of Information request by the Press Herald to obtain email correspondence between the Wardens and the production company, Engel Entertainment. IFW officials said the FOAA request was broad, and it will take months to fulfill the request.

Several lawmakers on the committee applauded the Maine Warden Service for conserving wildlife and upholding the laws.

Ultimately, the biggest question went unanswered, according to committee chair Senator Paul Davis: Did the Warden Service break its own policy during the undercover operation?

Senator Davis said law prohibits the Maine Warden Service from disclosing its policies for undercover operations in full. He said it's not the way other branches of law enforcement work.

"I was in the State Police for 23 years, and all our policies were wide open," said Sen. Davis.

He said the only thing lawmakers can do is propose new legislation that would change the requirements for disclosing such information.

It was a frustrating hearing for a handful of hunters who turned out, claiming similar tactics by undercover agents.

"I want redemption," said hunter Gary McCabe, who has faced nine hunting-related charges. "As far as I'm concerned, it's criminal what they're allowing to go on."

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