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What Ended ‘North Woods Law’ in Maine?

The production company behind the reality TV show “North Woods Law” is set to start filming in New Hampshire after forming a partnership with that state’s warden service.

The new filming location follows a decision by the Maine Warden Service last year to end its four-year relationship with the company. It’s not entirely clear whether a controversial poaching raid staged two years ago — or Gov. Paul LePage’s objections to the program — played a role in ending the show in Maine.

For past four years, the show “North Woods Law” has followed the exploits of the Maine Warden Service. In an episode titled “Full Throttle,” Warden Jonathan Parker is shown racing down the roads of Hartland as he attempts to intercept snowmobilers suspected of drinking and riding.

Right now “North Woods Law” is at the center of a controversy stirred by a report in the Portland Press Herald, which has suggested that the show’s television cameras influenced the Maine Warden Service’s response to a poaching sting staged two years ago.

The report has triggered questions about why the Warden Service decided to end its relationship with Engel Entertainment, the company that produces “North Woods Law.” On Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage told Bangor radio station WVOM that he played a role in ending the show. He said television cameras filming state employees as they worked is “distasteful.”

“I, quite frankly, was part of being very critical of the show,” LePage said. “I didn’t like it. I didn’t think it was giving Maine a good image. And I had more to do with it being canceled than any sting operation.”

The governor also said that he received “hundreds of complaints” about “North Woods Law.” But that’s a different experience than the one described by Cpl. John MacDonald, the spokesman for the Warden Service. He also worked closely with the producers of the show, and said the Warden Service viewed the partnership as a public relations tool that could help with warden recruitment.

He believes that it achieved its goal, and so the department decided to end the relationship last year.

“We feel like we want people to, perhaps miss the show, rather than be tired of it,” MacDonald says. “And we feel it’s a good time to step away.”

Engel Entertainment apparently feels there’s still an audience hungry to watch game wardens chase down snowmobilers, free entrapped deer or track down poachers. The company announced Thursday that it will soon begin filming in New Hampshire and operate under a similar partnership with that state’s wardens.

Steve Engel, the CEO of the company, did not return a call seeking comment. But Maj. John Wimsatt, assistant chief of law enforcement for the New Hampshire wardens, was sensitive to questions about the influence of cameras on warden behavior.

Wimsatt told the Concord Monitor that the production company will have protocols and practices to ensure that the reality show is, in fact, real.

That means that “North Woods Law” fans could soon see the return of dramatic take downs — of rogue snowmobilers.

Journalist Steve Mistler is Maine Public’s chief politics and government correspondent. He is based at the State House.