Wardens will miss Tibbetts’ expertise

Posted Aug. 19, 2009, at 10:44 p.m.

July 31 passed without fanfare in most corners of the state, but had they known the significance of the day, those who love the state’s wild places may have paused and tipped their caps to a longtime steward of Maine’s fish and wildlife.

That was the day, after all, that Lt. Doug Tibbetts of the Maine Warden Service retired after an illustrious 39-year career.

“[Tibbetts was] probably one of the greatest field wardens that can catch people, ever,” said Warden Sgt. Kevin Adam, who worked under Tibbetts’ supervision for more than a decade. “He knows, and taught, a lot of us how to catch people violating fish and game laws in the field.”

Adam said that although Tibbetts often served in supervisory capacities later in his career, his true passion was working as a field warden, tracking down violators. His expertise, Adam said, will be missed.

“There’s a lot of knowledge lost in his departure,” Adam said.

That image of the hard-driving warden, however, illuminates only a part of Tibbetts.

Tibbetts, who served as a field warden, a sergeant and a lieutenant during his long career, is also well-known for his limitless tales gathered during a career spent in the Maine woods.

At sporting club suppers that are staged regularly across the state, Tibbetts was known to share a few of those tales, including ones that cast him and his colleagues in a humorous light.

“He definitely remembers every summons he wrote, and he can tell a story about it. He definitely should write a book,” said Adam, who admitted that Tibbetts likely has a few stories to tell about all the wardens he served with as well.

“I’m sure he does, and we have stories about him, too,” Adam said with a chuckle.

Adam and his fellow wardens will have a chance to share some of those stories on Sept. 26, as a retirement party and roast of Tibbetts will be held at the Black Bear Inn in Orono.

The event promises to be an entertaining evening that will serve as a fitting honor for a man who must rank as one of the state’s most popular wardens.

Susan Zayac, who’s helping to organize the event, contacted me recently looking for help in letting Tibbetts’ many friends know about the dinner, which will begin with a social hour at 5 p.m.

If you’re interested in attending, tickets cost $26 per person, and you need to RSVP no later than Aug. 28.

For more information, contact Zayac at 287-5240. Checks for the dinner can be sent to Susan Zayac, Maine Warden Service, 284 State Street, Augusta, 04330.

More about bears

Many of us grow up with simple views and preconceived notions about the black bears who live in the woods around us.

In the summer, we all know, they’re out foraging.

And in the winter (we assume) they’re huddled in their dens, sound asleep, oblivious to everything around them. Snoring, we figure … well … like a bear.

That’s not quite the case, as it turns out.

Randy Cross, the wildlife biologist who supervises bear field research for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife, says that common view of bears is off base.

Yes, they hibernate. Yes, their heart rates may decrease from 50 or 60 beats a minute to a mere eight beats a minute as they spend half a year or longer in a den.

But the man who has made a career out of crawling into bear dens (or supervising others as they do so) in the middle of winter says it’s rare to find a truly slumbering bear on those scientific den visits.

“There have been a few times in my career — and I’ve snowshoed up to a lot of dens — that the snow conditions were so soft and quiet … that we were actually looking at a bear that had no idea we were there,” Cross said. “But it’s rare.”

Biologists and research staffers make every attempt to be quiet each time they visit a den, Cross explained. Still, it’s much more common to arrive at a den and find out that quiet was not quiet enough when dealing with ultra-aware bears.

“Last year we went to 93 dens, and all of [the bears] knew that we were there,” Cross said. “They were all surely looking at us or looking out the hole if they were in a hole.”

Cross said that hibernating bears are somehow able to remain aware of their surroundings, and to awaken if they hear something that alarms them.

“I would just think they could relax and take six months off, but we see that they’re very, very aware,” Cross said. “You would think that logically, they’re there for six to seven months [and] they would lose interest or lose some sharpness in the deep sleep, that you’d have quite an advantage on them because they don’t know there’s going to be any trouble in all that time.”

But when that trouble arrives — in the form of biologists looking to replace radio collars and take other measurements — the bears are typically awake and curious.

Cross surmised that perhaps bears spent so many years co-existing with another top-end predator, the wolf, that remaining alert during hibernation may have been essential to their survival.

Now, in Maine, where the mere presence of wolves is a topic of wide debate, that ability to detect threats from predators is not nearly as important. Still, bears retain the trait and use it to their advantage.

“There must be some advantage to them keeping that awareness, because they do,” Cross said.

So much for what we thought we knew about bears.

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