Augusta native and Maine Game Warden Troy Thibodeau says he’s not sure just what to expect when Animal Planet’s “North Woods Law” returns — especially since he’s going to be a featured character in the reality TV show.
“For me, I had a little apprehension being on the show my first year,” he said. “I’m a pretty regular guy. I’m just trying to do the best I can. It will be interesting to see how it comes out on film.”
“North Woods Law” begins its second season Thursday, with the first of 10 new episodes that will run into April. On the show’s Facebook page, a photo of Thibodeau contains the text: “New warden, new crush?”
A film crew from the popular reality television show followed Thibodeau, 31, from the time he finished warden school in the summer of 2012 through his first hunting season last fall. The 2000 Cony High School graduate worked as a carpenter in the summers and on a boat for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the winters before signing on as a part-time warden in 2010.
He’s now based in Kingfield, where he’s responsible for 10 townships.
Throughout the fall, there was either a camera mounted in his truck or a cameraman sitting next to him, capturing the exciting and the mundane, he said.
“The show is pretty real as far as reality TV goes,” he said. “It’s not like you do outtakes. I’ve learned a lot about how TV works.”
Thibodeau said he’ll watch the show with his wife, Samantha, and their children, a 3-year-old and a 10-month-old.
“It’s one of the best jobs in the world,” he said. “It’s a great job if you are self-motivated. There’s no one to tell me to go left or right when I pull out of the driveway every morning.”
Thibodeau and other wardens involved in the show think it’s been good for the warden service because it helps people understand what wardens do and how difficult the job can be.
The Maine game wardens have become celebrities of a sort since the show began airing on the cable channel last year.
Sgt. Tim Spahr was stunned when he attended an event at Maine Wildlife Park in Gray last year and saw people waiting in line for hours to meet him and other warden stars of “North Woods Law.”
“I can just imagine if somebody is really famous, how hard that must be,” said Spahr, 53, of Kennebunk. “The reaction has been very strong, particularly from young people who are maybe getting to see what wardens do for the first time.”
“North Woods Law” is shot entirely in Maine. It follows wardens around the state as they search for missing persons, track illegal hunters, go on drug raids, free trapped animals or enforce all-terrain vehicle regulations. Episodes have been shot at all times of the year and in every part of Maine, including moose encounters near Jackman and contact with snowmobilers in Rangeley.
The show is produced by Engel Entertainment, a production company that has made documentary series for Discovery, Travel Channel and History. The company wanted to do a show with game wardens in Maine because it seemed like “uncharted TV territory,” said Jessica Winchell Morsa, the show’s executive producer.
“It’s a very special and unique place, with the accents, the people, the seasons, the terrain. There’s just a lot there,” Morsa said. “And the job of a game warden there is so interesting.”
The Maine Warden Service agreed to do the show only after researching Engel Entertainment’s other shows, and deciding the production company probably would present a straightforward look at what the wardens do, said Cpl. John MacDonald, the liaison between the service and the show. He said other proposals for “reality” shows based on the wardens were proposed but rejected.
The state doesn’t get any money for cooperating on the show, but MacDonald said it’s a valuable educational tool.
“We wanted to highlight the mission of the service and help people understand what we do — what the difference is, for instance, between a warden and a forest ranger,” he said. “So we weren’t interested in a show that would have re-enactments or exaggerations. We thought this company (Engel) would strike the right balance for us.”
The 95 or so field officers of the Maine Warden Service are basically “off-road law enforcement officers,” MacDonald said. Wardens attend the police academy and a warden academy, and are armed in the field.
They are part of a bureau within the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, so they enforce laws related to hunting and fishing and do all sorts of law enforcement activity in natural areas — places where other law enforcement officers aren’t as well equipped or trained to get to. So in terms of fodder for a show, “North Woods Law” has a lot to choose from.
On one upcoming episode, Spahr is charged with investigating deer traps set up to protect an illegal marijuana patch. Another upcoming episode will feature wardens searching for a boy lost in the woods. The episode airing Thursday was shot last summer and includes encounters with ATV riders and a search for an illegal alligator.
For most episodes, wardens are followed by two camera operators and a field producer, said Devon Platte, the show’s co-executive producer and a Portland resident whose past credits include “The Amazing Race” for CBS.
Platte said an important part of the relationship between the crews and the wardens is trust.
“We have to keep up with the wardens, not slow them down, and show them they can trust us,” Platte said. “Early on, I think we figured that out, and it’s worked out for everyone.”
Susan Cover — 621-5643
Ray Routhier — 791-6454