INDIAN ISLAND — When the Penobscot Indian Nation was interviewing candidates for a job as the tribe’s big-game biologist seven years ago, Kristin Peet separated herself from her peers with a memorable statement.
“The personnel committee was interviewing her and she was talking about one of her previous jobs where she had to dispatch seagulls … with a 12-gauge shotgun,” recalled John Banks, director of the tribe’s department of natural resources. “They were all impressed with Kristin. She told how she didn’t really mind that at all, [that it was part of her job].”
Peet laughed at the memory.
“It’s a good thing that they didn’t give me a shooting test or anything,” she said before explaining the situation more fully. “[The gulls] were eating baby terns [on a coastal island]. It was a ‘save the terns, shoot the seagulls’ kind of job.”
Peet got the job, and has been the tribe’s big-game biologist ever since.
Earlier this month, her work was recognized by national peers, as the 31-year-old was named the biologist of the year by the Native American Fish & Wildlife Society during an annual banquet that was held in Cherokee, N.C.
Banks nominated Peet for the award, though the biologist didn’t know that when she headed to North Carolina for the event. In fact, when the presenter said that the winner had been nominated by Banks, she thought the award was going to the Penobscots’ fisheries biologist.
“Then they said, ‘she,’” Peet said. “I was shocked and honored. The whole gamut.”
Banks said Peet’s role has been vital as the tribe made management decisions on big game species that live on the tribe’s 130,000 acres.
“We wanted to have some science behind some of our recommendations on [hunting] quotas on moose and deer and so forth to make sure we weren’t overharvesting those populations,” Banks said. “Kristin came on board and helped us do that. So her involvement has been a godsend for the process here, where the tribe does have exclusive authority to regulate the taking of wildlife within its territory.”
Peet grew up in Pennsylvania, moved to Greenbush for her middle school years, then returned to Pennsylvania. Her time spent in Maine paved the way to her attending the University of Maine, where she studied wildlife ecology.
“Maine got in my blood and I couldn’t get it out,” Peet said.
And while she isn’t a tribal member, she said serving the Penobscots as the tribe formulates wildlife management policies has been a fantastic experience.
“I think the tribe was great in that they gave me the opportunity to just dive in and learn things on the job,” she said. “They didn’t expect that I was bringing this massive wealth of knowledge to the job. They wanted me to manage things traditionally, under their means of managing wildlife, which may be different than [what is practiced] elsewhere.”
Peet said the differences she has found in tribal big game management have been eye-opening, and were not the kinds of things that she studied in college.
“There’s a huge cultural component to what I do. I can’t look at this as just, ‘Biologically, this is what we need to do with the moose and deer herd,’” she said. “There’s all sorts of cultural aspects — spiritual aspects of hunting female animals, things like that. Scientifically it may make sense to hunt [in a given place] or hunt this number or this sex, but culturally that may not be the same thing.”
Banks said Peet’s work to provide tribal leaders with the data they needed when facing decisions on proposals to sell moose and bear permits to nontribal members was crucial. The tribe now sells a limited number of hunts for both animals for those who are not Penobscot tribal members, and the proceeds from those sales have helped fund the tribe’s department of natural resources.
“I don’t think we would have been able to move as far as we have on these hunts without having her on board,” Banks said.
And though Peet is proud to have been honored by her national peers, she’s not resting on her laurels: The Penobscots are playing a key role in a cooperative project that is particularly meaningful to tribal members.
“We’re going to be working on aquatic furbearers, in the Penobscot River, mainly, and we’re testing for contaminants in otter, mink and muskrat,” Peet said. “Muskrat most importantly, because tribal members eat them as a sustenance species.”
One of Peet’s goals is to be able to tell tribal members that their muskrat stew — a tasty dish, according to Banks — is safe to eat.
“We have the potential to do some groundbreaking work on that study that I’m really excited about,” Peet said.