Rugged Justice: 
Animal Planet featuring coastal WDFW officers

NATALIE ST. JOHN/ Deputy Chief Mike Cenci rests after helping to haul a large collection of loaded crab pots onto a WDFW enforcement vessel in January 2014.

PACIFIC COUNTY — The game wardens who enforce the state’s hunting and fisheries regulations are accustomed to tangling with all kinds of wild creatures, ranging from rule-bending crabbers to injured elk to aggressive bears. But this fall, they’re taking on a whole new animal — reality television.

Since October, camera crews have been filming members of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s enforcement team for a new Animal Planet show called “Rugged Justice.” Animal Planet previously aired a similar show about California officers called “Wild Justice.”

The film crews have followed game wardens all over the state, but three local men — Sgt. Dan Chadwick and Officers Pat Anderson and Paul Jacobson — are likely to figure prominently in the series, WDFW Deputy Chief Mike Cenci said in a phone interview in early November. Cenci may also appear in the series.

Cenci said the WDFW has reviewed numerous proposals for TV shows about their work, but had rejected all of them until this year. A lot of the other pitches included “crazy notions,” Cenci said.

“One company wanted to insert retired Special Forces, Green Berets and Navy SEALs into the woods to catch bear poachers,” Cenci recalled. “Somehow, they wanted to me to be responsible for this gaggle of vigilantes stumbling around the woods.”

But when Animal Planet shared their idea for a show, “We decided that the time was right and the format was right and the approach was going to be something that fit our needs as well as theirs,” Cenci said.

According to Cenci, the WDFW employees are not being paid to appear in the show due to ethical considerations. But he does believe the exposure will benefit the agency and its employees. He hopes the show will help viewers develop a better understanding of what the WDFW does, and improve public support for the agency.

“It’s a special form of law enforcement. There are a lot of the challenges these men and women face, and a lot of it is little-known,” Cenci said.

Privately, WDFW officers have noted that it feels a bit awkward to do their jobs with camera crews in tow and microphones dangling in front of their faces. But Cenci said members of the public who haven’t signed releases will be blurred out, and no officers were forced to participate either.

“At the end of the day, if someone had reluctance, we weren’t going to force them to tow around a film crew,” Cenci said. “… I think the individual officers understood that it was good for the program.”

Filming began in October and was scheduled to last about a month.

“It’s mostly routine. They’re not looking for staged stuff. The things that we’re doing, we normally do,” Cenci said, but he acknowledged that the agency did make an effort to include them in planned projects that were likely to show the more exciting elements of their jobs.

For example, the camera crews went with the officers on a night shift so they could film them busting a big-game poacher.

Cenci said he isn’t too nervous that the show will misrepresent the officers or manufacture drama through creative editing, because the WDFW preserved “a lot of editorial license” in their contract with Animal Planet. A more realistic concern is that the presence of a film crew could interfere with an investigation or enforcement action.

“There’s a little bit of nervousness. There’s some risk associated with doing this,” Cenci said. He said WDFW officers have asked the crews to stop filming on a couple of occasions. The camera crews complied.

“We do have an agreement if we stumble onto something that connects to something bigger, and we’re going to go into investigative mode — they’re not gonna pull the trigger,” Cenci said.

‘There are a lot of the challenges these men and women face, and a lot of it is little-known.’

WDFW Deputy Chief Mike Cenci

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