Down East 2013 ©
While millions of Animal Planet TV viewers got a glimpse of the things Maine game wardens do in the series North Woods Law , I’ve collected the 2011 data to find out just how much time they’re spending on the traditional job of enforcing hunting, fishing, and trapping laws.
The quick answer is: not enough.
Between 1975 and 1988, hunting, fishing, and trapping law enforcement consumed 70 percent of the time of Maine game wardens. During the 1990s, that percentage dropped to 53 percent. And it continued to decline, reaching 45 percent in the mid-2000s. A 2007 management review of the Warden Service reported that wardens were worried about their shifting mission and uncertain of their future as a law enforcement organization.
Colonel Joel Wilkinson set about to fix that when he was named to his position in 2008. And at the end of 2009, he issued a report titled, “Enforcement Activity Initiatives and Goals for 2010.” He told me recently that this memo is now being updated, but many of its goals remain in place.
Wilkinson’s goal for 2010 was for wardens to spend 40 percent of their time on hunting, trapping, and wildlife related enforcement, and 32 percent on fishing related enforcement.
So how are they doing in reaching those goals? Not so good.
In 2011, wardens spent 20.9 percent of their time on fishing enforcement and 30.1 percent on hunting, trapping, and wildlife enforcement. That total of 51 percent indicates the Warden Service has made some progress under Wilkinson’s leadership in moving back to it’s traditional role, but remains well short of his goal of spending 72 percent of their time on those traditional tasks.
So, what else are they doing? In order of time spent, here are the complete 2011 statistics: 30.1 percent hunting, trapping, and wildlife related enforcement, 20.9 percent fishing enforcement, 13.8 percent watercraft enforcement, 10 percent administration, 7.2 percent ATV enforcement, 6.2 percent snowmobile enforcement, 3.7 percent search and rescue, 3.3 percent training, 1.6 percent general law enforcement, 1.3 percent wildlife/human conflicts, 1.1 percent assisting other agencies, .8 aviation.
Two other issues are particularly interesting. Wilkinson established a goal of spending 23 percent of the wardens’ time on watercraft, snowmobile, and ATV related enforcement, education, training, and calls for service and outreach activities.
His goal for watercraft was 15% and in 2011 that category totaled 13.8 percent. His goal for snowmobiles was 6 percent and the final figure for 2011 was 6.2 percent. And his goal for ATVs was 7 percent, while game wardens spent 7.2 percent of their time on this task in 2011.
While many of us have the impression that a huge portion of the time of the entire Warden Service is spent on search and rescue missions, that function consumed only 3.7 percent of their time in 2011. This really surprises me. Search and rescue missions get a lot of publicity, but they remain only a small portion of the annual work of the Maine Warden Service.