Maine Warden Service leads biennial hands-on class for UMaine Machias students in wildlife forensics

Machias, Maine — Since 2017, Maine Game Warden and University of Maine at Machias alumnus Joe McBrine has been returning every other year to his alma mater to lead a special hands-on learning experience for students — a mock outdoor crime scene. It’s important training for students in the Wildlife Forensics class, he says, complete with the latest information on proper protocols and state laws.

“There’s a national shortage of law enforcement officers,” says McBrine, a 1994 UMaine Machias graduate. “These scenarios provide an opportunity for agencies to scout for good applicants. Students enjoy the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in what feels like a real crime scene investigation.  They gain confidence in themselves and their classmates.”

Wildlife Forensics, taught by associate professor of biology Gerry Zegers, is a required course for Associate of Science in Conservation Law and Outdoor Management majors as well as Conservation Law minors. Most of the students in these programs are planning a career in law enforcement whether Warden Service, Marine Patrol, State Police, Sheriff, or a Municipal agency. In 2021, alumna Abbey Allen was one of those students in Wildlife Forensics who was subsequently encouraged to pursue a career in law enforcement; she is now a Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

This experience is profound for our students.  It allows them to see and feel what a wildlife crime scene looks like and provides a low pressure experience questioning suspects, assessing a scene, collecting evidence, performing a necropsy, all with the supporting supervision of practicing and retired law enforcement officers.,” says Zegers, who has been teaching the class for 6 years.

This year’s mock outdoor crime scene set up by McBrine focused on an alleged poaching incident. Students in the class interviewed two potential suspects — role played by Washington County Sheriff’s Department officers Rodney Merritt and Allen — seen walking out of the woods with a dead bobcat. The undergrads also collected evidence at the “scene,” and then were on hand for a necropsy on the animal, which in real life was collected by the Maine Warden Service after being found dead last year.

The necropsy, overseen by Sgt. Josh Beal and Joe McBrine of the Maine Warden Service, revealed that the animal was killed by a gunshot and not an arrow, as the “suspects” claimed. The “mounting evidence” led to a confession of illegally possessing a firearm and alleged violation of several Maine laws.

The Maine Warden Service will hold a recruitment event on campus from 6–8 p.m. April 10 in 225 Torrey Hall for anyone interested in applying to the agency.