“We are known for helping each other—across town lines, or whatever it takes. If someone needs help, the help comes quick and in many ways,” says Joe McBrine. A Maine game warden, McBrine sees in his job and in the place he lives that people are the common denominator when it comes to community. “Very few places still have our sense of community. I’ll gladly drive an hour for shopping as long as I can live here.”
And helping others is what he does. Over the last 27 years, McBrine has spent much of his time enforcing rules and regulations as they relate to all things hunting, fishing and trapping in the state. He also looks forward to getting to know people while enforcing those laws. “It’s what you do Downeast— get to know people.” says McBrine.
McBrine and his wife Lori, who grew up in Jonesboro, met in business law class at the University of Maine at Machias (UMM). A humorous debate between them on the number of empty seats in the classroom continues to this day. Lori claims there were plenty of seats to take before McBrine took his, next to her, in the classroom. McBrine says, “No, there was only one seat.”
Born and raised in Presque Isle, McBrine has lived in many places, but Washington County is where he now works and makes his home, and it is where he and his wife raised two children, Olivia and Vincent. “I lived all over Maine growing up, but I consider Washington County to be my home. It is where we kept coming back to.”
It was while at UMM, where McBrine also received his Maine Guide license, that he joined Sunrise Search and Rescue and began assisting game wardens searching for those lost. Over time, these two pursuits led to his current role as a game warden. McBrine first served in the most western patrol area near Rangeley and then was located to the most eastern post in Eastport, before receiving assignments in Whiting and then Machias, which is where he patrols today.
Whether it is responding to an emergency, protecting wildlife or lending advice to a first-year game warden, McBrine admits plenty has changed in law enforcement. “Like many careers, technology is impacting how we do our jobs. When I came to work we did not have cell phones or computers. My best advice to new law enforcement officers is to be ready for change,” says McBrine.
Two lives impacting his pursuit in becoming a game warden were Lyman Hill and Charles Niles. Both men were the first wardens in the state of Maine to be killed in the line of duty, and their stories of dedication and valor push McBrine to be the best he can be in a career he truly loves. “Those wardens have served as a great motivation for me to work as hard as I can to protect our fish and wildlife.”
What are the challenges of living and working Downeast? “There can be downsides to living in a small community,” says McBrine.”Everyone knows everyone else’s business, and as a law enforcement officer it’s common to bump into people at the local store that you have ticketed or arrested.” He also notes the impact to an officer’s psyche of dealing with tragedy throughout a career. “After 25 years of those type of incidents, I have seen the cumulative effect they have on officers,” says McBrine. “Law enforcement officers experience a high volume of tragedy as part of our work. It’s hard when you see your neighbors in pain over the loss of a loved one.”
There is also the opioid epidemic, which is front and center when it comes to law enforcement. Game wardens are not shielded from the onslaught of drugs in the area. “This drug problem has severely damaged the way of life here, but the hard-working, caring people are still the backbone of Downeast,” says McBrine. “We are resilient, and I am confident that we will overcome and restore our way of life.”
In his time off, fishing with his granddaughter Ainslee, hunting, trapping, or carving one-of-a-kind fish and whale sculptures in his shop are just a few of the things keeping McBrine grounded to family and living life Downeast. In 2007, McBrine watched a competition at the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show in Orono. Seeing the woodcarvings sparked a curiosity which quickly grew, bringing to light an innate skill waiting to blossom. “I began wood carving shortly after seeing that show,” says McBrine. “I then started to compete across Maine and into New Brunswick. I enjoy making these pieces that people place in their homes or camps to enjoy.”
Another passion that surfaced a couple years ago is McBrine’s desire to learn about and relive the past. Early in 2018, McBrine, along with a few other local history enthusiasts, he donned Revolutionary War attire and founded the Machias Committee of Safety(MCOS). The group is in high demand to perform at schools and festivals throughout Downeast and is awaiting word on permission to construct a historical village in the Machias area, aptly named Liberty Village. “It’s important we continue to pursue what we are passionate about when it comes to representing the history of this area,” says McBrine. “We owe that to the men and women that were the very first to live here and give us what we have today.”
During its commencement program for 2019, UMM recognized McBrine for his commitment to working with and for others by awarding him the university’s Distinguished Service Award. It was noted during the presentation that McBrine received the award in “recognition of his commitment to the economic well-being of the citizens of Washington County; his tireless civic engagement; and his faithful support and sustained advocacy on behalf of the university, its students and its mission.”
Standing in his studio, McBrine is humbled by it all. He admits he has been fortunate and is thankful to many. Surrounded by numerous carving projects, bits of the past are perched on shelves along with the ever-present photos of family and friends. History abounds in this tiny workspace. McBrine smiles as he places a cutting tool onto a piece of wood and draws the blade back; the wood curls and falls to the floor. McBrine is home, Downeast.