BARING, Maine - Beware! If you decide to race around on your all-terrain vehicle off the designated trails at the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge, or poach fish from one of its many lakes, be prepared to face the consequences.
Officer Lori Lauer, who has been a law enforcement officer for the past five years, has worked for the last two months at the wildlife refuge, and is becoming more familiar with the area.
“I can do everything from what state troopers do to what state game wardens do,” she said Monday. “Drunk driving cases, drug cases.”
Having a full-time law enforcement officer on duty is a first for the refuge, which has been in existence for more than 70 years.
Lauer has a lot of resources at her disposal. “I am out there on foot, ATVs, snowmobiles. I have boats. I have canoes. I have a mountain bike. I have a lot of means to get around and patrol the refuge,” she said. “I am also out there to help with car accidents. I wear a lot of hats, so it is not [always] a bad thing to see me.”
And she may be in her refuge-brown uniform or in civilian clothes. She may be wearing camouflage garb. The point is if people are breaking the law, it is possible Lauer is watching.
In the past 20 years, the general managers of the refuge often held joint commissions as federal officers and general managers. They not only were responsible for the day-to-day operation of the refuge, they also often had to don their law enforcement hats to arrest someone.
“It was our responsibility to carry a gun and we had the power to arrest and to use lethal force. That tradition went on for a long time and was effective in your remote national parks and wildlife refuges because you had quick access to law enforcement,” Moosehorn refuge General Manager Bill Kolodnicki said Monday. “But as our bodies aged and the law ages, it becomes a very costly & thing.”
Several years ago, the U.S. Department of the Interior hired an outside agency to evaluate law enforcement coverage for the National Park and Fish and Wildlife services. The agency recommended that the two federal bureaus use full-time officers, he said.
“Following those recommendations, the director of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the secretary of the Interior moved it along in the [country],” he said.
Maine was among the first to get such an officer.
There now are two other officers in the state in addition to Lauer — a sergeant, who is responsible for the state and is based at the Craig Brook Fish Hatchery in East Orland and an officer who is based at the Maine Coastal Refuges in Milbridge.
“These officers work together and do joint task forces to look at poaching, hunting and other things. We have a lot of theft in national wildlife refuges,” he said.
There have been problems at the Baring refuge in the past.
Just recently, some people found a large pile of perch dumped on refuge property. The perch may have come from a nearby lake, but the incident drew the attention of refuge personnel. Earlier this year, a snowmobile flipped over after it ran into a logging truck while the truck was on the refuge doing approved wood harvesting.
Other law enforcement issues include drunken driving, ATV and snowmobile trespassing, deer poaching and drug parties, to name a few.
Kolodnicki said there has been a problem with drug-related incidents at the gravel pits in the Edmunds division.
A lesser-known issue refuge law enforcement officers face is the theft of copper because, according to Kolodnicki, some of the refuges are located at former military bases.
“So they have lots of resources that we are eliminating through restoration and we do sales and send the stuff to salvage. But without a large staff, it takes us a long time to take care of those resources,” he said.
It is not all about catching poachers and arresting people.
Public protection is another part of an officer’ s duty. “To make sure the public is safe like the snowmobile man that runs into the logging truck or the person that is trying to cross-country ski and gets run down by a snowmobile. If people want to use the refuge we need somebody to be watching out for them and that is why Lori will be very important to us,” Kolodnicki said.
The refuge consists of two divisions: The Baring Division with more than 10,000 acres is located off U.S. Route 1 southwest of Calais and the Edmunds Division with more than 8,000 acres is located between Dennysville and Whiting on U.S. Route 1.