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In A Boat With Jenna Reed, Patroller Of The Northeast Kingdom

A woman in a boat.
Erica Heilman
Jenna Reed is senior game warden for Vermont Fish and Wildlife in Orleans County. She recently took out Erica Heilman on Lake Memphremagog to explain the ins and outs of her job.

Unlike regular law enforcement, game wardens work almost entirely alone, and they find — and make — their own cases. One day they might be checking up on anglers by boat, another day they’re hiking six miles into the woods searching for illegal bait piles.

It’s a job that requires excellent communication, a lot of self-motivation, and occasionally putting someone in a headlock. Jenna Reed is a senior game warden for Vermont Fish and Wildlife based in Orleans County.  She agreed to take Erica Heilman out on Lake Memphremagog and talk about her work as a warden.

On The Lake

We're in Jenna's boat on the lake.  

Jenna: "There’s two guys in a boat. I’m just going to make sure they’re actively fishing, which they are."

Me: "So this is kind of like, we’re approaching a boat and for them it's the approach of dread?"

Jenna: "You know, I don’t know if that’s the case for most people. I talk to a lot [of people], and they're like, 'I’ve been meaning to run into you or call you, but I haven’t had a chance. Glad you’re here, I have a question for you.’ Most people are squared away up here, I find. For them, hunting, fishing and trapping is life, so they don’t want to do anything that could prevent them from doing such."

We approach the fishermen.

Jenna: "So I’m coming in nice and slow for ya. How’s it going so far?"

Fisherman: "Shoulda stayed home in bed."

Jenna: "Jenna Reed, State Game Warden."

Fisherman: "I know who you are."

Jenna: "I know. "

A woman and a man, in separate boats, talk to each other on a lake.
Credit Erica Heilman / VPR
Vermont Fish and Wildlife senior game warden Jenna Reed chats with a fisherman on Lake Memphremagog. Reed said most people she meets are fishing, trapping and hunting by the rules.

Fisherman: "You’re so popular."

Jenna: "I know. So no fish?"

Fisherman: "I got one."

Jenna: "Any size to it?"

He has a pretty small fish.

Jenna: "A monster!"

Fisherman: "Six inches. We’ve been all over all across the beach and all the way across the upper side up the John’s River. All around the islands. Nothing. It ain’t happening."

Jenna: "Well, you guys have your licenses on you today? In your pockets?"

Fisherman: "Of course we do." 

Jenna checks the licenses.

Jenna: "Well good enough, you guys have a good day, alright?"

Near Canada

Me: "Being a game warden in the Northeast Kingdom is a little different from being a game warden in Washington County. What are some of the special circumstances that the border implies?"

Jenna: "I mean, we have a lot of folks from Canada coming down and trawling for trout. I might get calls from the other wardens on the other side of the country here looking for assistance with ID-ing somebody, or giving me intel that so-and-so is pretending to fish, but they actually are bringing drugs across, do you recognize this or that."

Me: "So we’re in Canada now?"

Jenna: "No. We’re not in Canada. That would be frowned upon. I have a gun. Close, though. You almost had me."

Thinking About Trauma

Me: "This is something that wardens don’t talk about probably very much, in the same way that police don’t like to talk about it very much, but it is a job that invites trauma. It may be something scary that happens to you or a close call, but it also might be things that you have to see when you’re called to a drowning. I mean, these things accrue. They pile up and they have an impact. Is this something you think about or talk about with your colleagues?"

Jenna:  "I think most of the things that are hairy and you’re like, ‘Oh crap, I can’t believe that happened,’ or, 'That was scary', like certain wardens have had more than others. I’ve been pretty fortunate. But I mean there’s times.

A green truck.
Credit Erica Heilman / VPR
As a game warden in Orleans County, Jenna Reed often works with her counterparts across the Canadian border.

Jenna continued: "I think it was not too long ago, you get into a chase and you’re the only one chasing the person, and two people pop out and you know that a gun was used, and you’re like, are they going to start laying down rounds?

Jenna continued: "All the night stuff, it’s amazing how people think their hunting and fishing and trapping license is so important that they would take it to the next level. I’ve had people come out of their vehicles at me and you have to scream at them to get back in their vehicles 'cause they’re mad and doing one of these —"

Me: "One of what?"

Jenna: "Pointing and cursing. You know, ‘Leave me the F— alone, you have no right to pull me over,’ when an illegal deer’s hanging out the back of their truck. Right? And so you’re screaming at them and they’re not listening and in a split second you’re like, ‘Oh this could turn bad.’ And then for whatever reason, they decide, ‘Okay, I’m gonna get back in my car.’ And it usually ends up okay."

Me: "Is there stigma in looking for help?"

Jenna: "I think so. But I don’t think it’s brought on by — I think it’s our personalities, versus being worried about what the neighboring warden's gonna think or your buddies are gonna think. I think it’s just the way that a lot of us are. It's like, 'Oh no, you don’t ask for help. You don’t reach out and talk.' And then when you finally do, another warden would be like, ‘Why didn’t you call me when this happened? We would’ve talked about this!’"

Meet NEK Vermonters

Me:  "How would you characterize or how would you introduce other Vermonters to the people of this part of the state?"

Jenna: "I think up in the Kingdom, we have a lot more folks that are born and raised Vermonters, versus you go to Chittenden County, and most of those people are from other states. And here it’s mostly Vermonters because nobody really from out of state wants to come and move here because it’s so separated from, I guess, civilization.

A woman in a uniform stands by a truck.
Credit Erica Heilman / VPR
Jenna Reed points out that for a number of residents in the Northeast Kingdom, hunting, trapping and fishing remain ways of life.

Jenna continued: "That’s a hard question. How to explain to people from somewhere else how folks are here. You’ve got the folks that don’t understand hunting and fishing and trapping because they didn’t grow up doing it, and they don’t understand how much, say, the trappers do for the conservation, and how much they care for the animals that they trap.

Jenna continued: "Some of them know more than I do about, like, the whitetail deer or what the partridge are doing this time year or what the trout are biting on, feeding on, right now. They know a lot about the biology of those animals. And I think folks don’t understand that, like how much these hunters and anglers actually care for what they’re targeting."

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