Warden Service goes green

By John Ford Sr. | Aug 03, 2010

Long before the current trend of environmentalists pushing hard for everyone in the world to go green to save our planet, the Maine Warden Service had already made the move to go green.

Yup, the change didn't come without a lot of controversy and some damn right ugliness from many of the troops in the field, but in the name of progress a big change was made within the agency.

The wardens in the field were definitely going green.

The old-timers in the agency, those men accustomed to the habits of old, tried their damnedest to resist the change, but it was all to no avail.

Aug. 1, 1982, after a vote from the troops in the field and against then-Chief Warden Russ Dyer's wishes, the department purchased new uniforms. We switched from the sharp-looking blue-and-gray uniforms to an all-new polyester green.

Supposedly, reasons given for the change were to reduce the expense of dry cleaning and to provide men in the field with a lighter and an easier-to-care-for uniform. Not to mention, there was the theory it would be much easier for a warden to go unnoticed in the woods if he was wearing green, instead of blue and gray.

I didn't know about that. I never seemed to have had any problems slithering unnoticed through the pucker brush. In my mind, it's the manner one chooses to sneak around that gives a person away, certainly not the color of his clothing.

After outfitting the entire force with these new uniforms, comments began to surface, far and near, from wardens in the field. Some were very receptive to the clothing change while others were totally against the move.

That was one thing about the independent cusses that we all were. Never would you hear a unified consensus on anything that came out of the front office. A controversy was sure to follow.

The wardens in the southern part of the state might like a new idea while those in the north were strongly opposed, or vice-versa. But I can barely recall any issue that received 100 percent favorable comments from various wardens around the state. That was just the way it was. We were indeed a vocal and independent bunch of critters.

I don't know how true it was, but the rumor mill had it that a certain warden sergeant was wearing one of these new uniforms while he searched for several days for a missing person in western Maine. He didn't like the new uniform to begin with, and he despised them even more once that search was over.

The blackberry patches and thick alders continuously tugged and pulled on his new britches as he hiked along, shredding them drastically and leaving large gobs of white fabric all up and down the pant legs.

After he returned home, he removed the trousers, snapped a wild game tag on them and forwarded the entire package to the main office, declaring that he didn't know what kind of animal it was but maybe they could figure it out. Apparently his message was not all that vicious as he was able to keep his sergeant stripes.

Over the next few years, a host of various types of fabric were sent to wardens in the field for testing purposes.

The department hoped that sooner or later there'd be a uniform that would withstand the thrashing and banging around in the woods that we wardens were subjected to. The department also hoped it would be a uniform that everyone liked. Short chance of that ever happening.

Personally, I kind of liked the old blue-and-gray uniforms, especially the blue wools we wore during the fall and winter.

The people in our districts often commented how sharp the old uniforms looked. And they'd accepted these uniforms to be the wardens' trademark, especially the red wool jacket.

The red jacket was highly sought after by sportsmen and by many a law enforcement officer willing to trade the capture of a night hunter by his agency in return for a warden's red wool jacket.

The Gestapo-type of hat that we originally were issued in those days was a different story, especially for this warden. I hated the damn thing.

When I first came to the Unity area, I was standing along Main Street chatting with a fellow in my blue-gray summer uniform with my Gestapo hat firmly planted on my beanie.
A vehicle pulled up next to us and a man politely inquired, “Excuse me, Sir, can you tell me when the next bus leaves for Boston?” The guy seriously thought I was a Greyhound bus driver.

There was also the time I was sneaking up on a brook fishermen who had a favorite pool of water to his liking along Sandy Stream in Unity. I'd received word this young man was bragging about the excessive number of brook trout he snagged daily from that little pool of water.

Utilizing the stealth mode of sneaking around, I arrived high on the bank on the opposite side of the stream from his prized location. I hid underneath a large hemlock with low-hanging branches. It was a perfect place to observe this trout poacher, monitor his efforts and hopefully bring him to justice.

After several minutes lying in the prone position, I watched as my victim casually sauntered to his favorite fishing hole. The waiting game was on. Now, if only the fish would bite. As he'd done so many times before, he began hauling trout of various sizes out of the stream.

I didn't have as clear a view of his actions as what I hoped for, so I slowly crawled to the edge of the bank where I could look right down on the fishermen perched several feet below me. I was wearing that damned visored cap, not wanting to be out of uniform when I confronted the culprit I was stalking.

Suddenly, a low-hanging branch let go behind me and snapped the hat off my head, causing it to roll down the bank, where it eventually ended up in the pool of water directly in front of the fisherman I was hoping to corral.

So much for being stealth. If looks could have killed, I'd have been dead several times over. I was exposed red-handed, all because of that damn bulky cap we were expected to wear. From that day forward, I never wore it again when I was on a surveillance. I hated the damn thing before and I hated it even more after that little escapade.

Nonetheless, Aug. 1, 1982, that all changed and the Warden Service went green, long before the environmentalists tried pushing us all to go green. The uniform hat went from being the bulky Gestapo-type hat to that of a baseball-style cap.

Today, the uniforms have changed even more drastically. They are much more casual and certainly a far cry from the professional blue and gray of old.

Such was life with the greatest job on earth. Changes were coming faster than a freight train. Like them or not, this was the way it was going to be.

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