Book tells lighter side of NH Fish and Game jobs

Posted Feb. 12, 2011, at 3:22 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 6:58 a.m.

CONCORD, N.H. — As a New Hampshire Fish and Game conservation officer on patrol, Jim Juneau’s days were varied — searches and rescues of swimmers and hikers, watching for hunting and fishing violations, speaking to schoolchildren about wildlife conservation.

Then there were the animal calls, the ones you can’t plan for.

Like the one in Alton, when a police officer requested his help in dealing with a skunk that had a plastic mayonnaise jar stuck on its head. Juneau tried to snare the container and tug it off, but that didn’t work. The unhappy skunk was about to let Juneau how he felt when Juneau — his snare pole still attached to the container — proceeded to spin around, alongside a state road “like an Olympic hammer thrower,” hoping to generate enough force keep the skunk away from him. After 2½ rotations, the container popped off, the skunk went away, and Juneau was spared.

“It was a matter of self-preservation at that point,” recalled Juneau, who now supervises officers in the south-central part of the state. “I’m sure the traffic that stopped was getting quite entertained.”

The lighter side of a conservation officer’s job is the subject of “The Best of Warden’s Watch,” a collection of stories just published by the department that have been featured through 2002 and 2010 in the New Hampshire Wildlife Journal magazine. The 64-page tribute to fish and wildlife enforcement in the state is illustrated by Will Staats, a wildlife biologist for the department.

The book title uses the term “warden,” relating to long history of the officers in New Hampshire. Back in the late 1800s, they were known as “game protectors” to preserve deer and then later as “wardens” with the start of hunting and fishing licenses.

“Whether they’re dealing with wildlife or humans, wardens have to anticipate the unexpected — and the results can sometimes be quite entertaining,” Col. Martin Garabedian, the department’s law enforcement chief, wrote in the introduction.

The stories cover experiences with fishermen, handling deer, bears and moose on the loose, patrolling the coast, hunting, off-road adventures and strange sightings.

On Friday, Conservation Officer Jim Kneeland was getting ready for the Great Rotary Fishing Derby, which brings together ice fishermen from across the country this weekend to Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith. He recalled a story that is included in the book:

Some years earlier, he was finishing up his snowmobile patrol when he saw a stranded loon on frozen Newfound Lake. He knew that the nearest open water was several miles away, so he decided to help the wayward bird. Kneeland, who lived near the lake at the time, went home and returned with a dogsled, crate and a canvas snowmobile cover. He gently put the 10-pound bird in the crate — he ha d experience handling a couple of aggressive loons in the past — and attached the sled to his snowmobile.

As he was riding, he heard the loud cry of the loon and looked back. The bird had made its way out of the snowmobile cover.

“He actually seemed to enjoy the ride pretty much,” Kneeland said. The vocal loon could be heard above the roar of the snowmobile. “It did draw some attention from some folks that were in the bobhouses, Doors were swinging open to kind of see what the commotion was all about.”

Conservation Officer Jeremy Hawkes had his own adventure with an ice fishing hole. In his story, “How to Trap a Game Warden,” he was checking ice anglers on Mirror Lake in Woodstock when his left foot and leg slid into a small, chiseled hole that had been covered by blowing snow.

“It was almost impossible to get up and balance,” he said. “I was all the way up to my thigh, and one leg was bent up in front of me.”

He kept hoping his up-and-down dance wouldn’t be noticed by the fishermen, but eventually Hawkes, who wanted to save his boot, swallowed his pride and called out to them for help. Even though he had wet clothes and a bruised leg, he stayed around for a little while before heading home to change. “I tried to save face,” he said.

There are other stories of fun — and sometimes danger, such as the rescue of a moose that had fallen into a well; a couple of battles with alligators, and an officer’s decision to wait 17 hours for a black bear to come down from a tree. Helpful suggestions from spectators included “Put a wading pool of water at the base of the tree and hope it comes down for a drink,” “Sprinkle dog food around the tree,” and “Black bears don’t bite as bad as browns.”

Another story involved Juneau freeing a porcupine that got tangled in a soccer net at a summer camp for visually impaired children in New Durham. Luckily, there were no campers around at the time. Juneau was able to free the netting, but then was led by the porcupine on a 25-yard jog. His snare poll was still attached to the animal.

“He was certainly eager to head for the hills,” Juneau said.

“The Best of Warden’s Watch” is available for $9.95 at http://www.wildnh.com/Shop/shop_books.htm or at the N.H. Fish and Game Department, 11 Hazen Drive, in Concord, N.H.

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