‘Rugged Justice’ TV series showcases state fish and wildlife officers

Season 2 of “Rugged Justice,” featuring law enforcement officers from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, premieres Sunday night on Animal Planet.
Season 2 of “Rugged Justice,” featuring law enforcement officers from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, premieres Sunday night on Animal Planet. Courtesy

The second season of the Animal Planet series ”Rugged Justice,” featuring state Department of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement officers, premieres Sunday night.

The 10-episode series follows officers as they patrol more than 42 million acres of the state, from backcountry roads in a rain forest to mountain terrain to densely populated urban areas. Each year, the department’s officers respond to more than 225,000 calls.

The first episode, “Unlawfully Killed” follows along as Fish and Wildlife officers confront bear poachers, and an inebriated suspect is taken to jail. In addition, an officer has a surprise encounter with a rattlesnake.

Watching officers deal with the poaching situation stands out in the mind of Adrian Carter, one of the series’ executive producers from Toronto-based Shark Teeth Films.

“There is great detective work in the first episode. They used their experience as hunters, their experience as police officer. They relied on that experience as they worked the case. It was amazing to watch that process,” Carter said.

In future episodes, officers will deal with an aggressive fisherman who has a warrant for his arrest for malicious mischief, while another is taken into custody for violating a restraining order. Officers also must relocate a bear after it wanders dangerously close to a campsite and a chicken coop in search of food. Another episode shows officers called to the scene of a young elk being poached near a national park. But they wind up catching a pair of hunters who were using bait to poach bears.

Carter said a third crew was added to help with the filming, which took place during 11 weeks from May through late-August. That allows the series to show a greater variety of situations and cover more of the state, he said.

Filming took place in Seattle, at SeaFair, in Pierce, Kitsap and Pacific counties, Moses Lake, Neah Bay, Tri Cities and Bellingham.

“We tried to show a greater range of stories than we did last season,” Carter said.

“There is a trend toward greater authenticity in reality television. We can only film what happens. We can’t change what happens,” he added. “We can only film over the officer’s shoulder and show what happens. This is very real, and we’re very proud of that.”

Carter said the show’s producers want viewers to understand the dichotomy of what the state’s Fish and Wildlife officers do.

“It’s important for us to show what they face in their encounters, not just the wildlife issues but general law enforcement situations,” he said.

That is a major reason the agency agreed to do the program, said Mike Hobbs, deputy chief of the law enforcement program.

“The whole point about trying to get us on television is to highlight our relevance,” Hobbs said. “We don’t just serve the public that recreates, but also the public that likes just being outdoors in the evergreen state. We want people to know it’s a safe place to go.”

Before the first season, Hobbs said there was some concern from sportsmen’s groups that it would negatively portray them.

“It was the opposite effect. The public saw us take the bad actors and get them out of the outdoors,” he said.

Season 2 was expanded to 10 episodes after the success of the six-part first season.

“The first season was a great success. We got great feedback from not only residents of Washington state, but from viewers in general. It did really well in the demographic it’s aiming to satisfy — the 18-49 group,” Carter said.

The series airs on Animal Planet at 8 p.m. Sundays.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640