Maine wardens undercover

Maine Game Warden Mike Bowditch is a fictional law enforcement officer who is the protagonist in a long series of Maine-based novels by best-selling author Paul Doiron. In many of Doiron’s plots he artfully selects characters and events that, although fictional, have a thread that has some basis in fact.

In his latest novel, “The Last Lie,” Doiron has Warden Bowditch caught up in an Aroostook County poaching ring. The poaching ring’s leader, Pierre Michaud, is a bad guy, as are all of his sons. Although the Maine Warden Service lacks legal evidence, it suspects that one of its missing wardens, who had been operating undercover and infiltrating the poaching ring, had been murdered and his body disposed of by the Michaud gang.

It is doubtfully mere coincidence that, in real life, in 2016 an undercover Maine warden working an Aroostook County poaching ring had his cover blown thanks to an “investigative story” in the Portland Press Herald. Doiron has a knack for turning mundane factual tidbits into intrigue-laden fictional narratives that hold your attention.

The whole newspaper expose caused quite a stir. The news report alleged that the undercover warden had overstepped his ethical and legal bounds in an effort to nab the bad guys and acquire evidence that would stand up in court. As a result, other citizens stepped forward lodging similar complaints about their encounters with the undercover warden.

There was a legislative hearing. As is often the case, the Portland Press Herald stood by its story and the Warden Service stood by its man and refused to throw its undercover warden under the bus.

The chief warden, Col. Joel Wilkinson, did advise lawmakers that all undercover operations by the Maine Warden Service had been stopped, “suspended.”

That was six years ago. Little has been said since then. For those of us who follow closely the work of state game wardens in protecting Maine’s natural resources, a question arises, prompted by the central plot in Doiron’s new book. Are undercover operations by the Warden Service still under suspension or have things changed under new leadership?

Recently, this question was put to the press spokesman for the game wardens. Here is the response:

“As you know, we cannot release information concerning active investigations, and by policy we can’t comment in order to maintain officer safety. What I can say is that the investigative division of the Warden Service is operational based upon organizational need.”

Unless we misread this somewhat equivocal response, the answer seems to say that undercover operations are no longer suspended, or, at least, not ruled out if circumstances dictate.

V. Paul Reynolds

Columnist at Ellsworth American
The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. His email address is [email protected]

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