'North Woods Law' puts work of New Hampshire conservation officers in the spotlight

By KIMBERLEY HAAS
Union Leader Correspondent
March 15. 2018 10:48AM
James Benvenuti was recently named “Officer of the Year” at NH Fish and Game. He talked about being on reality TV and the challenges of his job Monday. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

Cora lets Conservation Officer James Benvenuti know she has found a shell casing during a training exercise in Newington Monday morning. (KIMBERLEY HAAS/Union Leader Correspondent)

New Hampshire Fish and Game Conservation Officer James Benvenuti said being on “North Woods Law: New Hampshire” has helped when he responds to calls.

“It’s kind of funny. When you pull up to somebody — whether they have a violation that you’re dealing with or you’re not — all they want to talk about is TV, the TV show that you’ve been on,” he said. “I think it’s helped us out a little bit.”

Benvenuti, 29, grew up in Newmarket hunting and fishing with his father. He said being a conservation officer was his dream job growing up.

During a ride-along with a Union Leader reporter on Monday morning, he was on the way from Durham to Newington to work on training exercises with his K-9 partner, Cora.

Benvenuti started working with Cora in September 2016 when she was a puppy. Donated by Wes and Belinda Reed of Rise and Shine Retrievers in Barnstead, the black Labrador retriever is now a year-and-a-half old.

Cora worked on leading Benvenuti to shell casings, small personal possessions and a plastic bag containing a rainbow trout. He is hoping that Cora can help him find fishermen this summer who violate length regulations for striped bass on the beach.

Benvenuti explained that from June to September, recreational fishermen are out in force on the Seacoast.

“When there is a cover of darkness, there is a little bit of temptation to take a short one,” Benvenuti said.

During other seasons, conservation officers have different issues to deal with.

“We have snowmobile responsibilities. We have search-and-rescue responsibilities. We have rule books that are three inches thick that deal with wildlife control officers and exhibitors and aquaculture permits and marine fisheries,” Benvenuti said.

He said one of the biggest challenges his team has right now is that 30 people cover the entire state. A fully staffed force would be 50 people, he said.

According to the New Hampshire Fish and Game website, state general funds make up less than 3 percent of the department’s budget. Instead, the department is funded by fishing and hunting license fees, federal dollars and other sources.

Fish and Game Law Enforcement Chief Col. Kevin Jordan said Wednesday that because of the lack of staffing, some of his conservation officers cover 20 towns.

Jordan said “North Woods Law: New Hampshire” has gotten young people from all over the country interested in being a conservation officer.

“North Woods Law: New Hampshire” airs on Animal Planet on Sunday nights. Jordan said the producers of the series, Engel Entertainment in New York City, let him know that last Sunday night’s show was the highest-rated episode they have ever had for this type of programming.

Engel Entertainment also produces “North Woods Law” in Maine and “Lone Star Law” about Texas game wardens.

Members of Fish and Game who appear on “North Woods Law: New Hampshire” have been at outdoor shows signing autographs while hunting and fishing licenses are sold.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 24, Conservation Officer Glen Lucas, who covers the North Country, will be at the state’s largest camping and RV Show at NH Sportsplex on Technology Drive in Bedford. Information about fishing at popular camping sites will be available.


EnvironmentGeneral NewsPublic SafetyFishingHikingHuntingDurhamNewington

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