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TV show puts local Fish & Game officers in the spotlight

by Tara Giles
Sports reporter - Coos County Democrat and Berlin Reporter

Some cast members of Animal Planet's "North Woods Law NH" were on hand for a viewing of the new local favorite television show at the Rialto Theatre in Lancaster on May 10. Left to right: Matt Holmes, Glen Lucas, Andy Schafermeyr, Lt. Wayne Saunders, Major John Wimsatt, Chris Eagan, Sargent Mark Ober and Jim Cyr. (Photo by Tara Giles) (click for larger version)
May 16, 2017
LANCASTER — They say everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame at some point in their lives, but for members of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, that 15 minutes has turned into quite a bit more. The television show "North Woods Law NH" that airs on Animal Planet has become a new local favorite, with the first season already wrapped and a second season in the works.

The reality show follows New Hampshire Fish and Game officers as they go about their work. The show is filmed throughout New Hampshire, as the intro to the show states, from the mountains to the ocean. The concept has turned out to be very entertaining yet extremely informative.

So, how did it all begin? The Democrat spoke with Major John Wimsatt, who said the journey began more than two years ago. The department was contacted by Engel Entertainment via e-mail. The company produces the same show in Maine and was seeking to expand the show into New Hampshire. Wimsatt said, "When we were first approached about the show we took some time to really think about it, which included talking with Fish and Game officers from Maine."

Wimsatt's main goal was to have the department cast in a positive light, he said, adding that "Engle Entertainment has a very good reputation and has always made good on their word. From there, we started to draft a contract."

In January of 2016, the contract was approved by the Governor and Council, and the filming began the following May.

As far as collecting payment for the show, Wimsatt explained, "The department has a specific designated non profit funding partner, Wildlife Heritage Foundation of NH, and their chief function is to help raise funds for the entire department to help fill gaps in funding."

The agreement is that for each show that is aired during this season's initial run, $2,000 is given to the WHF.

What separates "North Woods Law NH" from other shows in the same genre is that more biological work as well as department functions are showcased.

Wimsatt said, "We want it to be more diversified. We're trying to demonstrate that the department has so many other functions then what most people think. We want the public to know how broad and diverse the job duties are."

From bear nuisance calls and biological studies to busting poachers, the show has it all.

Wimsatt said the feedback from the show has been excellent, explaining that "Politicians, hunters, fisherman as well as many people that have no contact with the agency have been very surprised at how much they enjoyed the show.

Here's how it works, Wimsatt explained: "Once they start filming, they shoot hundreds of hours of film and start to put the stories together. We then get sent future episodes for an in house review process. We bring in subject matter experts to clarify issues to make sure we have things accurately portrayed."

Wimsatt said that nothing is staged that didn't already happen. For example, in a rescue scene if the camera men didn't get exact footage because something happened so fast, they may ask officers to reenact it.

As far as how things work in the world of television, Wimsatt said he was most surprised at the relationship between the producer of the show and the network that airs the product.

"I learned about the business and how things are done in regards to making decisions about how, when, where and what is aired, and that lies largely with Animal Planet, they are the top of the food chain," he said.

For Wimsatt, the best part is that the department is coming up on its 150th year anniversary, which is a historical milestone.

"It's exciting that we're able to capture a period in the department's history in a very permanent way," he said. "I know that someday down the road when things change, we'll be able to look back and know a lot about what it was like because everything is accurate."

When asked who the biggest hams of the show are, Wimsatt quickly replied with a laugh, "Glen Lucas and Eric Hannett."

"Glen has a great sense of humor and makes things more enjoyable," he added.

Wimsatt said that as the officers grew more comfortable they were able to be themselves.

"Hannett has a funny, dry sense of humor that has come out on the show," he said. "Everyone laughs and gets a kick out of Eric. In one episode, he was encouraging people to wear hunter orange for safety and said 'If you don't, you might as well just wear antlers.'"

Hannett is from the southwestern part of New Hampshire, in Fitzwilliam.

Lucas, who lives in Lancaster and is well known to the locals, explains what he learned the most about himself, commenting that "I learned that while Go Pro's are in my face around my work truck that keeping your head up is very important, otherwise my double chin showed more often."

On a more serious note, Lucas said, "I really enjoy the lifestyle that I have chosen as a Game Warden. I feel like I don't have a problem speaking with and working with the public in pretty much any setting."

Lucas went on to say, "I didn't feel like filming was much different than interacting with the public through TV. However, once it aired, I felt embarrassed and didn't really want to watch the show with anyone else but my bride. I'm not too much up on social media, but I think they use a term, 'things just got real.'"

Lucas learned that in the television industry, things are centered around a timeline and a budget.

"When I am working and on call 24/7, I do not have restrictions other than how much fuel I have in my tank and how far can my legs take me," he explained. "Realizing as I bailed out of the truck on a rescue up Mt. Washington or continuing on past 14 hours of continuous patrol, they had to either head back or they couldn't continue. At first, it was a little bit of a bummer that they were going to miss anything on film. But after I realized that was just business, I continued on and they either caught up later or found me the next day."

Regarding his peers Lucas said that there are some officers that want nothing to do with the show and others that should have a chance to be on but haven't had the chance to shine yet.

Lucas shares his favorite part about being on the television, saying "I think that having my family that lives far away see what I do in more depth is very rewarding in a selfish way. I have a very large extended family (36 first cousins and 18 aunts and uncles) and they have always been so supportive of me and my career. I feel like the show has boosted awareness in people that are not necessarily our constituents or maybe didn't know that they were until now. I get comments all the time about how much we do and how many people had no idea."

Dubbed as one of the hams on the show, Lucas said that he thinks Kevin Bronson takes the cake.

"He's single, and has an awesome character," he said of Bronson.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department has a goal of keeping the public aware of other things such as outdoor education for the youth, as well as their program Operation Game Thief. OGT is a silent witness, anti-poaching program that encourages the public to report any suspicious activity or knowledge in regards to poaching. The hotline is available 24 hours a day 1-800-344-4262.

As for the future of the show, stay tuned.

Wimsatt said, "New Hampshire doesn't land on national television very often so we take it very seriously, we are representatives of the state and agency. We like to show everyone how great New Hampshire is and how much we love where we live."

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