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Filming starts soon for N.H. Fish and Game reality show

By David Brooks

New Hampshire conservation officers and wildlife biologists are gearing up to be the focus of a reality TV show, while a similar program in Maine winds down amid questions of whether the filming contributed to controversial poaching raids in 2014.

“We are scheduled to begin filming later this month – we have not determined an exact start date – and will continue through spring, summer and fall,” said Maj. John Wimsatt, assistant chief of law enforcement for the Fish and Game Department.

Filming will be done by Engel Entertainment of New York City, the production company behind North Woods Law, a long-running program on the Animal Planet channel about the Maine Warden Service.

Steven Engel, the company’s president, said that while Animal Planet had not signed a contract to continue the show with a New Hampshire angle, he was confident it would be broadcast.

“Clearly they’re excited about being in the same neighborhood. New Hampshire has so many interesting opportunities from a storytelling point of view,” Engel said. “I can’t say that it’s definite because the broadcaster will make its own determination, but my feeling is that it will (happen).”

Engel and Wimsatt said the New Hampshire show would have a broader focus than the Maine show, which concentrated on law enforcement.

“The focus is to reflect on the broad and diverse duties and responsibilities of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, not just the daily and patrol activities of conservation officers. It is planned to include many activities within our 200-person organization,” Wimsatt said, ticking off such activities as fisheries and wildlife management, biological studies, education programs like Becoming an Outdoors Woman, and search and rescue.

“There’s a significant amount of pre-planning, logistical work yet to be done,” Wimsatt said.

Under the contract approved by the Executive Council earlier this year, Engel will make a payment of $2,000 per aired episode to the New Hampshire Wildlife Heritage Foundation, which is the nonprofit partner of Fish and Game.

In four years on the air, North Woods Law has proved very popular for the Maine Warden Service, to the point that the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has begun Camp North Woods, a summer camp to introduce youth to outdoor recreation. According to the Bangor Daily News, 96 children will attend this summer, and the state hopes to have as many as 1,000 campers per year by 2018.

According to published reports, Maine decided not to renew the filming contract last fall, meaning the show will end after its seventh season this year. Maine Warden Service officials told the press they thought the program had succeeded in bringing awareness to the duties of game wardens but had run its course.

On Tuesday, Maine Gov. Paul LePage took part of the credit for the cancellation, saying on a talk show on radio station WVOM that he thought the program cast Maine in a bad light.

On Sunday, the Portland Press Herald published a long story alleging the Maine Warden Service greatly overreached in a series of February 2014 raids related to poaching in Maine’s northern tip. The story noted that two film crews from North Woods Law accompanied armed wardens and state troopers in part of the raids, and quoted several people expressing concern that the desire to create good television might have led officers to overreach.

The Maine Warden Service strongly disputed the allegations in the story in an article published by the paper Wednesday.

Wimsatt, saying New Hampshire has “a strong, solid cooperative working relationship with Maine Warden Service,” said he was confident that filming of the show wouldn’t get in the way of Fish and Game duties.

“We are confident about it, based on the reputation of Engel Entertainment and the work they have done with the Maine Warden Service. They have protocols and practices in place that govern their activities, just as we do,” he said.


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