Going wild

Local game wardens star in new reality TV show

Mark Imsdahl (left) is one of the badass local Fish and Game wardens participating in National Geographic’s new California-based reality series.

Mark Imsdahl (left) is one of the badass local Fish and Game wardens participating in National Geographic’s new California-based reality series.

Tune in:
Wild Justice airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on the National Geographic Channel (available locally on satellite and cable providers). Coming up Dec. 15: “Felony Friday,” featuring local DFG Lt. Sam Castillo on the trail of a mountain lion poacher. See their web site for more info.

The Nov. 28 debut episode of National Geographic Channel’s gritty reality show Wild Justice showed California Department of Fish and Game warden Brian Boyd stealthily tracking a bear poacher through the backwoods of Tehama County at night. Boyd masked his tracks by wearing a pair of real bear paws tied to his feet.

“I hunt people. This is how I get my fix,” an armed Boyd said at one point.

Boyd came across a group of men near a lifeless black bear sprawled across the tailgate of a pickup, minus its gall bladder. (Bear gall bladders are a hot item on the Chinese-medicine black market.) But he couldn’t charge anyone with wrongdoing because no one was caught red-handed.

Boyd is one of several Northern California DFG wardens featured in the 11-episode Nat Geo series produced by Thom Beers, known for his other action-packed reality shows, Deadliest Catch and Ice Road Truckers. Wild Justice follows California game wardens in their everyday pursuit of poachers, law-breaking pot growers and fishermen, fugitives, black-market animal-parts traders, and folks illegally abandoning trash and dumping pollutants into waterways.

The second episode, titled “Marijuana Mountains,” followed DFG wardens working in the 12,000-acre Oroville Wildlife Area at night, where they came across a couple illegally parked to have sex, and a carload of stoned teens with a hefty bag of marijuana. In the same show, five men suspected of involvement in illegal marijuana cultivation were stopped near the Feather River.

Contrary to popular belief, the job of a game warden involves much more than just giving out fishing citations.

“There’s a lot going on around here in Butte County,” said Oroville-based DFG warden Mark Imsdahl by phone recently. Imsdahl appeared in Episode One, on the trail of poachers who left the rotting, mutilated remains of a black bear in a garbage-filled creek bed. “It’s something different every day. The first thing [yesterday] morning, I got a call that someone had driven down the road and shot a deer on a lady’s front lawn. I found the deer stumbling around. I had to dispatch the deer.

“It’s not deer season,” he continued. “These people were poaching, and shooting a high-powered rifle near people’s homes. … Deer poaching is way more common than people imagine.”

Salmon season, said Imsdahl, is the most hectic: “People come from all over the state, and out of state. It’s nonstop with illegal fishing and taking over-limit salmon. There’s something about the salmon that drives people to do crazy things. … They resort to any tactics—spearing, snagging.”

Imsdahl has seen all manner of backcountry monkey business, from the mundane to the dangerous to the downright comical.

One time, he said, he came across a man at night in the Oroville Wildlife Area who was “in the passenger seat [of his car], naked and alone. I tried to ask him what he was doing, and he tried to make up a story that he had a prostitute with him.” A search of the surrounding area failed to turn up any woman.

Another time, he ran across a man sleeping in a tent at night who had women’s undergarments spread out over all the surfaces of his truck.

“I called the guy out of the tent, and he was wearing a T-shirt and panty hose,” Imsdahl said.

“I had to know, so I asked him, ‘Is all that stuff yours?’ ” Imsdahl continued bemusedly, referring to the women’s underwear. “He said, ‘Yep.’ ”

Imsdahl recalled having to work an 18-hour day once at the opening of deer season, dealing with one violation after another, including having to arrest a convicted felon with a $10,000 bench warrant who was carrying a loaded rifle in his vehicle.

“But not everyone we deal with is a criminal,” he pointed out. “A lot of them are just everyday people recreating.”

“The last three episodes will be almost all up here [near Chico],” said Chico-based DFG warden Chad Alexander, and will include “a lot of good big-game violations.”

Alexander appears in an upcoming Wild Justice episode in which he follows up on a complaint from a man in Forest Ranch about his neighbor feeding bears (feeding big game is illegal in California).

“I think what our department’s hoping is that people will understand more about what our job is,” offered the calm 37-year-old. “This show shows how dangerous our job really is, because almost everyone we come into contact with has a knife or a gun or some kind of weapon—a gaff or a billy club to knock a fish in the head. … They have a weapon in their hand, but you can’t treat them like a criminal, because 98 percent of them aren’t.

“I enjoy my job,” he added. “I’m outside every day. It’s duck, quail and pheasant season right now, and it’s still fishing season. There’s no slow month for game wardens.”