‘Rugged Justice’: Washington wildlife cops star in Animal Planet series
An advance look at “Rugged Justice,” which follows the trail of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife law-enforcement officers as they protect natural resources around the state. It debuts on Animal Planet on Jan. 18, 2015.
Special to The Seattle Times
8 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 18, on Animal Planet.
Tonight in Prime Time
Animal Planet’s “Finding Bigfoot” and “Treehouse Masters” have both filmed some episodes in the Evergreen State. And now, there’s an entire docu-series set in Washington.
Animal Planet’s “Rugged Justice” is basically “Cops” in the wilderness as it follows members of Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) law-enforcement program as they police and protect natural resources in the state’s mountains, on city streets and along coastlines. WDFW officers also enforce state fishing and hunting licensing laws and respond to incidents involving potentially dangerous wild animals, including bear and cougar.
In the series premiere, Officer Mike Jewell searches for a DUI suspect outside Moses Lake, officer Chris Moszeter tracks down a bear near Fall City, Officer Jennifer Maurstad sets up a decoy bear to ensnare hunters who don’t follow hunting regulations in Mount Vernon and Sgt. Erik Olson busts salmon poachers in Seattle.
Mike Hobbs, the Olympia-based deputy chief of the WDFW law enforcement program, said he was first approached by producers from Toronto-based Shark Teeth Films, the production company that makes “Rugged Justice” for Animal Planet, in June 2013. At that point, the show’s focus was specifically on the Karelian bear-dog unit, which uses Karelian dogs to control bears in a nonlethal fashion when the bears interact with humans.
“My initial reaction was this was never going to happen,” Hobbs said. “This is the first time we’ve ever done a series, so this was just a logistical nightmare of working through labor and management, union agreements and working through the red tape of getting permission to do this.”
It was the Karelian bear-dog unit, the only one of its kind in the United States, that first drew the attention of Shark Teeth Films co-founders Adrian Carter and Tom Mudd. They also liked the mix of Washington topography and climates.
“It’s a populous state yet it still has huge wilderness areas in juxtaposition with dense, suburban populations, which leads to a lot of interaction between animals and people,” Carter said.
After a pilot was shot in May 2014, the show’s focus expanded to follow WDFW officers at work in a variety of situations. Scenes shot of the Karelian bear-dog unit in action for the pilot will be inserted into the six episodes Animal Planet ordered for the first season.
“Rugged Justice” filmed from September to November with Seattle’s Andrew Takeuchi serving as director of photography. Three crews with five crew members each followed officers in their work, wearing bulletproof vests as a precaution. Producers said the crews were prepared to back off if ordered to do so by an officer should a situation become dangerous.
“The film crews went where we went,” Hobbs said. “We didn’t go places we didn’t normally go. They completely understand that they get [to film] what we run into every day.”
Hobbs said the state is not profiting from the show and the officers featured were not paid either, but Hobbs does get to vet episodes before they air.
“They correct any factual mistakes, like if sometimes a certain part of a sentence got lost in the edit,” Carter said.
For Hobbs, making people more aware of what the WDFW does was the whole impetus for working through the logistics that allowed “Rugged Justice” to film in Washington.
“There’s nobody else out there that is tasked with the mission of protecting our natural resources and the public we serve,” Hobbs said. “If you want to go fishing or do some other outdoor recreation activity, we’re the ones tasked with making it a safe and enjoyable experience.”
Freelance writer Rob Owen: RobOwenTV@gmail.com or on Facebook and Twitter as RobOwenTV.