On Sunday, the Maine Sunday Telegram published a long, seemingly in-depth series of stories that, according to the paper, documents a “controversial sting” operation that took the Maine Warden Service two years to complete, and which, writer Colin Woodard asserts, resulted in “surprisingly scant results.”
The target of that sting was a group of Allagash residents who came to the warden service’s attention, after public complaints to wardens, according to the Maine Warden Service.
In a package of four stories, Woodard weaves a tale that hints at unethical or potentially illegal actions by undercover warden Bill Livezey, who infiltrated the group. The newspaper also suggests that the presence of a “North Woods Law” TV crew may have prompted the warden service to act differently than they otherwise would have “perhaps to make a splash for a reality TV show.”
The package, which appeared under the headline “North Woods Lawless,” was certainly an attention-getter.
It also, I’d assert, relied too much on the accounts of those who were ultimately convicted, along with their relatives and friends.
Most troubling, perhaps, was the fact that the story downplays the results of the undercover investigation, and that a powerful Maine politician who represents Allagash, Rep. John Martin, is among those who suggest that too much money was spent to achieve those results that Woodard calls “scant,” for offenses that he sometimes refers to as “minor.”
Here, according to the Maine Warden Service’s rebuttal letter, is what “scant” looks like nowadays.
The undercover operation resulted in the convictions of 17 people, according to the Maine Warden Service. Those individuals were convicted of 75 crimes, and paid $39,000 in fines, and spent nearly 180 days in jail. Also of note: The crimes were serious enough to result in a total of 80 years worth of license revocations. At least one defendant appealed the Maine’s highest court. The court affirmed his convictions.
Among those crimes: Night hunting (nine counts, for one individual), hunting under the influence, hunting during closed seasons on deer and moose, shooting from or having a loaded firearm in a motor vehicle, and hunting while one’s license is under revocation.
Minor crimes? Hardly.
Consider: As Woodard points out, just 2 percent of the cases that the wardens submit for prosecution each year are felonies.
And few, among those other cases, rise to the level of charges that the Allagash investigation resulted in.
The fact is, some folks who don’t spend much time thinking about the state’s fish and wildlife resources might agree with the story’s assertion, and figure it’s not a big deal if a few poachers shoot too many moose or deer … or even do it at night, or while drinking.
For those of us who do spend time in the woods, and who try our best to be ethical and law-abiding when we’re out there, crimes like that are a very, very big deal, whether they rise to the felony level or not. We’re not poachers. We’re not lawbreakers. And we tend to resent those who are because they give law-abiding hunters a bad name.
When people are breaking wildlife laws habitually (as the Maine Warden Service asserts was the case), taking the necessary steps to make that killing stop is not just acceptable. It’s essential.
Fish and wildlife laws exist to protect natural resources that belong to all of the people of Maine, and to aid in the management of a variety of species. They’re there to ensure that those resources aren’t over used, over harvested or otherwise abused. Sadly, in many cases, the acts of humans pose the biggest threat to fish and game, and the habitat they rely upon for survival.
Some folks in Allagash told Woodard that the arrival of the wardens frightened them, and that they thought the wardens showed up with more firepower than was necessary. Others said they feared the public would see Allagash residents as lawbreakers, but said some actions that might not occur in other, more populated places — driving the backroads while consuming a cooler full of beer, for instance — are commonplace.
Having spent a fair bit of time in Allagash, I can vouch for one of Woodard’s assertions: The people I’ve met there have treated me wonderfully, and have been some of nicest, most gracious people I’ve ever met. The fact that a few people in this small town were convicted of fish and wildlife crimes shouldn’t reflect on the good folks of Allagash.
Instead, it should reflect upon those who were convicted.
Some said that the undercover warden tricked them into committing acts they wouldn’t otherwise have committed.
Think about it: How much cajoling would it take for you, as a sensible, newspaper-reading, hunter, to decide to stick a gun out the window of a pickup and blast a moose in the middle of the night? And how likely would you be to then leave that animal in the woods, as the Maine Warden Service says happened at least once in Allagash?
For most of us, there’s no amount of cajoling or coaxing that would convince us to participate in such acts.
Or, for that matter, in most of the other acts that resulted in the 75 convictions.
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke