August 18, 2019

Playing the Winning Hand With Always the Appropriate Trump Card in Maine Wildlife Management


Photo Editorial by Richard Paradis

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Maine’s “Game Plan for Deer” Getting Nowhere Fast

Growing up, my father was forever angering me with his platitudes in hopes of proving his point or putting you into a context of uselessness. Growing up poor we spent many hours of many days doing physical work around home, such as firewood, weeding gardens, mowing lawns, etc. I recall sometimes being told to do things I didn’t think possible and my first and repeated reply was, “I can’t”. His scripted retort was always, “Can’t never did anything!”

Is it me and my expectations of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife (MDIFW) are too high or has the passage and implementation of the Maine Game Plan for Deer, become a useless instrument supported by “I can’t”?

Some say I’m not fair in my criticism of MDIFW but frankly what criticism is ever considered fair when you are the target of the criticism? Criticism should always be followed by suggested remedies, which I usually try to do.

Maine sportsmen held out hope going into the last election of governor, thinking that an administration change at both the Blaine House and regime change at MDIFW, that resources and attention would shift back toward actual game management, particularly deer, addressing a decades-long downward spiral in the state’s deer population.

When all the changes took place, personnel went to work to draft an official plan to rebuild the deer herd. George Smith, former executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and now writer and outdoor/environmental pundit, attended a long meeting with members of the MDIFW to update the progress of the Game Plan for Deer. George files an initial report on the meeting.

I did not attend the meeting so I can only comment on Smith’s perspective of what he took away from the event. In essence, Smith relates that there was little optimism for the future and little had been accomplished and little projected to take place. Perhaps he puts it best when he wrote:

expectations are now high and his [MDIFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock] ability to deliver is low

In reference to the content of the meeting, Smith says: “A lot of time was consumed with a discussion of deer feeding problems, predator controls, and deer/vehicle collisions.”

I’m not sure that I agree, as Smith writes that the number one issue facing a depleted deer herd is habitat, it appears nothing is even being done to address that problem.

But very little time was devoted to habitat protection and enhancement – the key problem and the major reason for the state’s diminished deer population according to the agency’s wildlife staff. Surprisingly little is actually being done on this.

I guess the catch phrase here might as well be, “I can’t!” After reading this assessment, once again my blood pressure spiked and I began breaking pencils and tossing them across my office. One stuck into the screen to the side door. What I sputtered about for the next 20 minutes sort of came out something like this:

It’s all about habitat! I’m so sick and tired about hearing how everything must be blamed on habitat. Well, you know, habitat is important but nobody has ever answered my question about why if there just isn’t any deer wintering areas left there are many acres of deer wintering areas where there are no deer. I could better understand this excuse if the deer herd was near the state’s carrying capacity, but it’s not. And yet, according to George Smith nothing is planned to deal with that so………

We can’t do anything about the weather and MDIFW is not going to do anything about habitat, so………

Then logic would force a sane individual to ask, what CAN we do? Let’s take what we CAN do and prioritize it into what has the biggest negative impact on down to the least and begin there.

So once MDIFW gets done forming more task forces, putting up more signs of deer crossings, paying to fly around and count deer, reduce Any-Deer Permits, shorten the deer season, close it in some areas, raise the license fees, pray for more global warming, take the dog for a walk, go out to lunch, form another task force, walk the dog again, investigate how many deer are being killed by farmers, then perhaps they could get down to predator control or does that have any negative effect at all? Maybe they see coyotes and other predators as positive effects on the deer. I mean take the wolf. They are like the wonder drug, geritol, spandex and lycra, WD-40. I think the presence of wolves cures cancer. Can coyotes be that much different?

And I still haven’t calmed down yet!

I can’t! MDIFW doesn’t have the resources. I can’t! The demands are too high. I can’t! I can’t! I can’t! I can’t!

CAN’T NEVER DID ANYTHING!

Where’s the effort here? Who’s on board with this effort to rebuild Maine’s deer herd? Has the state really made a commitment to rebuild the deer herd? Does Maine honestly see and understand the economic as well as cultural impact the loss of a deer herd and ultimately a hunting season would have on the state?

I have to seriously question that commitment.

Recently I received an email from a gentleman who is head of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife in Utah. I shared that email with a few select recipients on my email list, including the MDIFW Commissioner Chandler Woodcock.

The email was a call to arms for Utah and other sportsmen from the Western regions of the United States, to come together in a united effort to rebuild a depleted mule deer herd. The email begins by clarifying what efforts had been done to date to fix the problem.

While more than 750,000 acres of habitat has been restored, cougar populations have been reduced, and $650,000 a year in coyote control is spent, $50 Million has been invested to fence highways with underpass crossings, still not enough has been done. It is the feeling that 80% of Utah’s deer herds are still in decline, and only 20% or so are doing well.

How many acres of this much needed habitat restoration has been done in Maine? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. What concerted efforts are underway in Maine to reduce predators, including black bears, bobcats and coyotes, even if only temporarily until the herd rebuilds? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. How much money has been put toward coyote control in Maine? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. How much has been invested in other projects around the state to protect and build the deer herd? Oh, that’s right. I can’t.

WE already know Senator Hatch has helped get tens of millions in habitat restoration money, personally toured Habitat restoration areas, won the wolf war for sportsmen etc.

In Maine, it appears the Governor has promised to do everything he can do, but when was the last time Sen. Snowe, Sen. Collins, Rep. Michaud, Rep. Pingree attended one of any meetings on the issue of rebuilding Maine’s deer herd? Or toured any deer yard? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. How about the last time one of these elected officials sent a key staff member to assist? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. When was the last United States senator or representative who “helped gets tens of millions” to help do anything with wildlife management in Maine? Oh, that’s right. I can’t.

As was written about in this email, there is an election coming up again next November. Maine sportsmen should be looking at every candidate and demanding that they have an agenda to actually do everything they can to save Maine’s deer herd or they won’t get your vote.

The overall effort here is just coming across as pathetic. Certainly there are pockets of positive accomplishes and isolated individuals doing what they can, but Maine’s overall effort is poor. The Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, once the backbone of lobbying for the sportsmen is in disarray with a sinking membership and disunity among those members still hanging on. Perhaps David Trahan can right the ship. It is imperative for Maine’s future for sportsmen. The governor makes promises to “do what he can” but is he? Isn’t it time to rattle the cages of the 4 Congressional delegates and tell them it’s time for them to get involved. If Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah can “find” millions of dollars to help with restoring habitat and mule deer there, isn’t it reasonable to expect the same might be available somewhere for Maine?

Can’t never did anything. As long as the current administration in Augusta insists that there’s nothing they can do or they are doing all they can, what hope is there? To exclaim that “expectations are now high and his ability to deliver is low” is a loser attitude. There is no room for this when a state is faced with such a serious problem. But, then again, maybe the real problem is that those in high places don’t really view a lost Maine deer herd as a serious problem or even a small problem.

The Maine Game Plan for Deer is a worthless document until a strong and united effort is undertaken. It has to be more than task force creations, meetings, talk and rhetoric, while fractured small groups or individuals practice futility. It appears Maine has to learn how to build a coalition that brings everybody onto the same page. Until that happens the only rebuilding of any deer herds will be happenstance.

Maybe David Trahan, if he were to successfully pull all this together in a united and powerful force to reckon with, this would, at the same time, resolve the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine’s membership problems. Just a thought! Let me know when you are ready to fight.

Tom Remington

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Wolves in Maine – Part VI – (Did Wolves Leave Maine and Why?)

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

In the book “Early Maine Wildlife” – Historical Accounts of Canada lynx, Moose, Mountain Lion, White-Tailed Deer, Wolverine, Wolves, and Woodland Caribou, 1603 – 1930 – by William B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving, as the reader progresses through the chronological order in which the book was laid out, a few things become clear in the debate about game animals and predators during this time frame.

For instance, in recent times I have heard information being passed about by biologists within the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and others, that whitetail deer never were abundant in the northern part of the state and that moose and deer did not and could not survive together. In this claim some have said that when the deer moved north, the moose disappeared and/or when the moose were plentiful through the state, the deer were not. Accounts recorded in this book do not show that to be the case at all in my opinion when considering all written accounts. In actuality all three species of moose, deer and woodland caribou existed throughout the state together, at times very plentiful and other times not.

What does become apparent is that the proclivity of more or less game animals, i.e. caribou, moose and deer, was all dependent on the presence of wolves. What remains unsettled is when, if ever, did wolves leave the state of Maine and what was the reason for their exodus?

Most accounts in this book seem to agree that widespread and numerous packs of wolves in Maine had disappeared by the 1860s – 1870s, even though there are accounts of wolf encounters by people into the early 1900s. As is typical even to this day, hunters and trappers reported seeing wolf tracks many times and yet the continuing presence of wolves would not be acknowledged unless someone killed one and brought it out of the woods.

As an example, appearing in the Maine Sportsman, of an account in 1899, an anonymous writer says, “Thaddeus Coffron of Grand Lake Stream, claims to have seen two large gray wolves not long since on Big Lake near the mouth of Little Musquash stream. He walked up within a few yards of them, being armed only with an axe. Their tracks had been frequently seen in the vicinity previously.”

But as appears in “Forest and Stream”, we read this, “Again there are reports of wolves in Maine with their tracks followed by old wolf hunters, who ‘could not be mistaken.’ They do not bring out the trophies, however, and until they do the ordinary individual is inclined to regard their stories in the same light as that of the well-read fable.”

According to the editor of Shooting and Fishing in 1920 the last officially recorded wolf kill happened in Andover. “The report of the State Treasurer of Maine for 1895 shows that there was one wolf killed in the state during that year, for which a bounty was paid. This single specimen was killed in Andover, and is said to be the only wolf killed in Maine for many years.”

The editor further accounts that even though there may be a stray wolf killed sometime into the future, his “trustworthy sources” believe the wolf is “practically extinct” in New England.

What we don’t know for certain is why the wolf became “extinct” or “practically extinct” in Maine and New England. We have been led for decades to believe that the wolves were all shot, trapped or poisoned by man. Accounts in the book don’t seem to readily agree with this hypothesis nor does it that the caribou were killed off due to uncontrolled hunting.

As was recorded in the Maine Sportsman for the year 1900, a man who worked as a log scaler in the Penobscot region and traveled by foot as far away as 60 miles between lumber camps tells of his observations. “During the whole winter we saw no deer and but few moose, the entire absence of deer being due to the wolves with which the woods were overrun. Caribou we saw everywhere and I plainly remember that one day, coming out upon them trailing along in single file was a herd of 17 caribou.”

However, the scaler’s recall of what was once is soon become reality as he wonders where the caribou went. According to several writings in this book, deer, moose and caribou had once been reduced drastically, probably from a combination of predators and uncontrolled hunting. When the wolves disappeared, the deer and moose recovered and caribou for a time before it is believed, for whatever reasons, they just migrated out of the state. Perhaps they were simply tired of being harassed by predators, including man.

F. E. Keay writes in 1901 that wolves were the “most dreaded” of wild animals and that by their nature were found to be “ferocious and cunning” and did “incalculable” damage to livestock. In dealing with these large predators, Keay describes the effort this way: “They traveled in companies, sometimes of ten or twenty, and were caught or killed only with great difficulty.”

As I have pointed out in other parts of this review of wolves in Maine, the majority of reports all seem to agree that wolves were quite prevalent in Maine until around the year 1860, in which most also agree the wolf simply left the state with the exception of pockets of areas where some packs remained. While it is inarguable that the efforts of hunters and trappers, in conjunction with bounties being paid over 130 years and more, a sizable dent was put in Maine’s wolf population but evidence from these accounts can support the notion that this was not the cause of the final “extinction” of wolves in Maine.

While some accounts in this book of “Early Maine Wildlife” say that wolves for the most part left on their own, coinciding with a time in which many accounts tell of very little game, i.e. moose, deer and caribou, this would support the theory that large predators, like the wolf, will move into an area and essentially devoid it of prey and then move on. We seem to see that here, although several wolves and packs remained behind until the late 1800s when “trustworthy sources” declared the wolf “practically extinct”.

In having a better grasp of more recent coyote/wolf history in Maine, we discovered that it was not long after the wolf had become “practically extinct” that what was called the eastern coyote began populating the region. I recall in the 1960s seeing a stuffed eastern coyote that had been killed in Maine. This version of coyote was approximately 30 pounds in weight. This is a far cry from the more abundant sizes of coyotes now present in Maine, commonly reaching 50 -70 pounds in size.

It has been determined that what roams today’s forests in Maine and are commonly referred to as coyotes, are actually some concocted conglomeration of mixed breeds of wolf, coyotes, and domestic dog. It became common knowledge after the influx of eastern coyote into Maine that this varmint, perhaps because of a very small migrating population, interbred with “wild” dogs or domesticated dogs left to run unrestrained. No one is sure of how the wolf mix got into these animals.

It has been theorized that what was once called the gray wolf in Eastern Quebec, Canada, began migrating or random scatterings of these wolves, entered northern Maine and as such resulted in the inbreeding of the already inbred coyote/dog.

Considering the evidence provided in “Early Maine Wildlife” one has to honestly consider that given the relatively short period of time from when “trustworthy sources” declared the wolf in Maine “practically extinct”, that some of those earlier wolves remained behind and began breeding with the migrating coyotes.

It would be intellectually dishonest not to consider all the facts in educating ourselves to the changes of wildlife, including predators and large game animals and use them to better be able to effectively manage these species. It is reasonable to consider that man’s efforts to eradicate, – and make no bones about it, that was their intent – was not wholly what drove wolves out of Maine. If this is the case, then it would be beneficial to gain facts and knowledge to understand what events total caused this to happen.

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Wolves in Maine in the 1800s – Part V (Attacks on Humans and Extermination or Migration?)

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI

When studying and reading through, “Early Maine Wildlife” – Historical Accounts of Canada lynx, Moose, Mountain Lion, White-Tailed Deer, Wolverine, Wolves, and Woodland Caribou, 1603 – 1930 – by William B. Krohn and Christopher L. Hoving, it becomes clear that there was not always agreements about wildlife. This particular book chronicles the “observations” of hunters, trappers, outdoor writers and historians. Not always do the observations of one person agree with the observations of another. This is the same thing we see today in that people jump to conclusions based on brief and not necessarily scientific observations or at least those based upon sound and thorough data. And at times, the observations of the very seasoned hunter or trapper were scoffed at. More on this in a moment.

In previous parts I have shared information I had found about human encounters with wolves. For decades in this country we have had it drummed into our heads that it were hunters and trappers mainly responsible for the extermination of wolves and also that there has never been any wolf attacks on humans in the Lower 48 States. Those who read their history, know both of these claims are not entirely true.

In 1884, in a February issue of “Forest and Stream”, a writer tells of what it was like living in Maine and dealing with wolves. He writes: “Some fifty years ago these animals [wolves] were numerous and terribly ravenous in the many sparsely settled districts of New England, and the farmers found it impossible to raise sheep, and even calves and pigs were frequently destroyed. Instances were numerous where strong men were attacked and overpowered by packs of wolves.”

This is yet another report and confirmation of regular and frequent attacks on humans by wolves.

But disagreements began to mount as to the validity of two events concerning wolves – when they when “extinct” in Maine and what caused that “extinction”. (I put the word “extinction” in quotes because it has never been determined if the wolf in Maine was effectually exterminated or even what exactly defines extermination.)

Some writers believed that by around the 1880s the wolf that roamed the Maine landscape had disappeared and there seems to have been just as many who disagreed with that assessment.

In another article that appeared in “Forest and Stream” in 1883, a writer recounts the encounter with wolves on the Mattawamkeag River. The author tells of the “blood-curdling” howl of the wolf that frightens all but the very experienced of outdoorsmen. He also tells that on only three occasions in his life did he witness a wolf bark and he says that in each of those events the bark was directed at a human. He describes the bark this way, “The tone is very deep, delivered slowly and deliberately, and each time in exactly the same key, and is in a strange contrast to the rapid, rasping yelp of the coyote.”

On the Mattawamkeag River, a member of the lumber camp had spotted a deer laying dead on the ice of the river. On the opposite shore, was a wolf and it was “barking” at this man, evidently in the fashion described above. The man returned to camp and it was decided to use a bottle of strychnine and poison the meat of the deer in hopes to kill the wolves.

When the man returned to the bait site the next morning, he was quite surprised in what he discovered: “On returning alone to the post, early the next morning, I found that the two wolves had called to the feast the largest pack known in that vicinity. Not a vestige of the deer remained but the hair, and that was so scattered and trampled upon as to be almost indistinguishable………They had gone up the river, and an old hunter who camped about five miles above told me afterward that he counted the tracks of forty-two where they had spread out on a big meadow, that they ate all the poisoned bait that he had out….”

Reports at this time were contrary and confusing. As I said, some were stating the wolves were all dead and yet we find accounts as those described above.

By 1884 there was a “Commission of Fisheries and Game” in Maine. It appears from the accounts in this book that even the commissioners believed the wolves were all gone as a report by the Commissioner of Fisheries and Game scoffingly wrote, “To the poachers’ cry of wolf, the Commissioners have responded by the offer of a double bounty for every wolf scalp. No claims have been presented.”

In a report filed by M. Chamberlain, he writes, “[Wolf] Was common from about 1840 until about 1860; since then, it has entirely disappeared.”

Perhaps the clearest indication of the disagreements between those living in the area about the existence of wolves, comes from an “anonymous” writer, I assume an editorial, in 1884 in the “Forest and Stream”. In this, the writer, again in a scoffing manner, speaks of how the Commission called on what they believed to be false claims that wolves were still killing game and livestock. This is when the Commission doubled the bounty. This editorial is rebutted which I’ll get to in a moment.

Of interest in this piece is that the author speaks of what he believes to be the facts that wolves are now all gone in Maine. But why are they gone? He writes, “Curiously enough there are old settlers in Maine who retain the theory that wolves follow deer. They claim that there were no deer at the time of the wolves – ‘the wolves killed them all off’ – but that since the extermination of the wolves the deer have gone on increasing.”

In this editorial the writer clearly blames the hunters for killing off all the deer and not the wolves.

In the rebuttal I spoke about earlier, the author, an experienced hunter and trapper, says he can prove his facts that the deer are all gone and it was the wolf that killed them and that it was not the hunters that made the wolves disappear. He writes, “In 1853 wolves were very plenty, and for the next five years were not scarce, plenty could be found within sixteen miles of Bangor in 1857 and 1858. They seemed to leave quite suddenly, the last I know of positively being taken was killed by Frank Fairbanks in 1860 in Munsengun. I know the wolves were not exterminated, as from the time they were quite plenty till the time they disappeared, very few skins were brought in. They left of their own accord, just as the caribou left us.”

Little has changed over the years, I would guess, when it comes to dealing with wolves. 130 years ago the wolf was vehemently hated and yet there existed those who wanted to blame man for everything wrong with wildlife.

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The “Intellectual Rubbish” of “Ecosystems” and “Balance of Nature”

Today, we learned that Dr. Valerius Geist, a foremost wildlife scientist, “Denounced Ecosystem Management“. In his condemnation he described the belief in “Utopian philosophy of ecosystem perfection absent of all human activity” as “intellectual rubbish”. He also challenges, in a way, those not stricken with “intellectual laziness” to “Know the difference between positive and negative feed back, and you are on the way of understanding both homeostasis in individuals and stochastic non-determinism in ecosystems.”

I would like to take a layman’s stab at explaining about ecosystems and the myth of nature balancing itself. As with everything I write, I don’t ask readers to simply believe what I write but to do some research and make their own determinations.

Of late, I have composed a couple articles in reference to “natural regulation, here and here. The theory of “natural regulation” can just as easily be described in the same fashion as Dr. Geist used above; “utopian philosophy of ecosystem perfection absent of all human activity.” Or, in words we can all understand – just leave it alone and let things go as they will.

Part of the problem is that all people have been subjected to the use of the word, “ecosystem” to describe a landscape where flora and fauna live together in perfect harmony. “Eco” being a hip word these days (I assumed derived from ecology) and the “system” I am willing to wager is very much misunderstood. Many people, if engaged in some kind of biology discussion, might think of a system as their own body; a composition of organs and tissues all working together, the result of which is a living, breathing and walking specimen of human being.

Unfortunately the “system” in ecosystem is only used as a means of classification, or dare I say, should be used in that way. Regardless, the term in and of itself is quite misleading.

Dr. Geist spoke of “know[ing] the difference between positive and negative feed back”. This information can easily be obtained by doing searches Online but perhaps it’s much easier to find than understand. As individual humans (animals), our system (body) works to maintain “homeostasis” – “to maintain internal stability, owing to the coordinated response of its parts to any situation or stimulus tending to disturb its normal condition or function”. The responses to those disturbances are what are known as “negative feedback loops“, working to reverse or negate those disturbances. Dr. Geist says this is why “individuals are individuals”, i.e. “because they are controlled by negative feed back – negative!“.

In the contrast, as is pointed out by Geist, groups of organisms living together, in what is now too commonly referred to as that somewhat mythical “ecosystem”, are “never controlled but instead are subjected to “whims and randomness of positive feed back”.

Positive feedback loops, logically would be the counterpart to negative feedback loops. In the positive feedback loop, the body senses changes or disturbances and reacts to actually speed up the change. Some examples of this in humans might be a heart attack, clotting of blood, or even labor pains.

Dr. Geist tells us that if we can gain a solid understanding of the differences between positive feedback loops and negative feedback loops, then we might better understand “both homeostasis in individuals and stochastic non-determinism in ecosystems”.

Stochastic as it would apply to our “ecosystems” involves “a random variable or variables“.

Our ecosystems, so used, is a conglomeration of organisms all subjected to the influences of random variables that are forever changing. Geist describes those random variables as: “whims and randomness of positive feed back.”

If in our minds we can envision that our world is comprised of multiple pockets of habitat of varying sizes, each abutting and/or overlapping, or even standing apart, comprised of diverse species of plant and animals (including man) and all being subjected to random variables, it becomes much more difficult to seriously give credit to a “balance of nature”.

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