Outdoors

Could this piece of art save Maine’s endangered wildlife?

Posted March 17, 2017, at 6:03 a.m.
Last modified March 17, 2017, at 1:29 p.m.

At first glance, the beautiful painting recently completed by Mark McCollough appears to be a collage of some of Maine’s most iconic wildlife, artfully arranged into the shape of the state. A snake forms the southern tip of Maine, puffins line the coast, and an owl, wings outstretched, holds up the state’s northern border.

But the animals in the painting aren’t just local residents, they’re creatures that are disappearing from Maine’s forests, fields, wetlands and waters. McCollough’s artwork is the third edition of Maine’s Endangered and Threatened Species Poster, and it includes all 51 species currently listed as endangered and threatened by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

“The list is growing and it gets more and more difficult to envision a poster design that you can fit all these species into,” said McCollough, who in addition to being a well-known wildlife painter, also works as the endangered species biologist for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service in Maine. “But I said I was up for the challenge.”

DIF&W secured a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant to mail this new poster, along with a teacher activity and information packet, to every fourth grade teacher in the state this past August. Also, this same packet was mailed to 266 public libraries statewide, to use in displays and after school programming.

“I know from the programming that I do for schools that endangered species is a really popular topic with students and teachers,” said DIF&W Education Coordinator Lisa Kane. ”And we knew we had a really lovely product from Mark McCollough. We want to get posters on library walls, classroom walls and summer camp walls.”

The poster, along with other merchandise displaying the image, is for sale online through the DIF&W store, and all proceeds from sales will go directly to the Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund to support the state programs and projects that are geared towards helping these animals.

“[McCollough] is an unbelievable artist, and he has a career as a wildlife biologist. So combining those two talents really makes for having a unique skill set,” said Kane. “This is one way people can contribute to the work that DIF&W does.”

The poster was created in conjunction with the sixth update to Maine’s List of Endangered and Threatened Species, which are protected under Maine’s Endangered Species Act. Not only did McCollough succeed in arranging the species in the shape of Maine, he also placed species in general locations in which they are found.

It was a big hit at the recent Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show in Orono, where McCollough offered the posters for sale — $4 each — at his booth of wildlife artwork.

“A lot of folks came up to my original painting and looked at it closely to try and identify some of the species,” McCollough said. “They realized it was a lot of Maine wildlife, but I don’t think they realized it was the state’s endangered and threatened species. I heard things like, ‘Wow, the puffin is endangered? I didn’t know that. Bats are endangered?’ And ‘What’s that brown rabbit? I thought those were really common in Maine.’”

The rabbit in the painting, hopping across the state, is the New England cottontail, and biologists believe there are only about 300 left in Maine. Once abundant throughout the state, the cottontail is now only found in Cumberland and York counties, in dense thickets that they require for survival.

And the bats — the little brown bat, northern long-eared bat and Eastern small-footed bat, to be specific — were just added to Maine’s threatened and endangered species list in 2015, following an outbreak of White-Nose Syndrome, a disease that infects and kills cave-dwelling bats.

On the back of the poster is information about all 51 threatened and endangered species in Maine, written by DIF&W Endangered and Threatened Species Coordinator Charlie Todd, and designed by Kane.

“We get a tremendous kind of positive response from teachers,” McCollough said. “The posters have been used widely to educate kids about endangered species and the challenges they are having. The back of the poster is just as important as the front, and I know the [DIF&W] put a lot of thought into writing and editing the information.”

McCollough has created the artwork for all three of Maine’s Endangered and Threatened Species lists so far, starting in 1990, when the state released it’s first list. At the time, the list comprised of just 22 species.

“In my career, we’ve had to increasingly had to deal with a broader diversity of wildlife that’s at risk,” Todd said, “and slowly but surely, we’re catching up to get to all creatures, big and small, to stabilize and hopefully recover some of them.”

The absence of one animal from the 2016 endangered and threatened species poster is proof that recovery, in some cases, is possible. The bald eagle was listed as endangered in Maine in 1978, at a time when biologists estimated only 30 nesting pairs of bald eagles remained in Maine, according to a DIF&W historical overview of the bald eagle in Maine available online. To account for the plummeting eagle population, scientists blamed a variety of human-related factors, including the widespread use of the insecticide DDT, which was banned in 1972.

Protected under federal and state law, the bald eagle population rose steadily in Maine throughout the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, as biologists worked with the public to conserve eagle nesting sites. In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the federal endangered and threatened species list. And in 2009, Maine officially delisted the bird. At that time, state biologists counted at least 477 nesting pairs in Maine.

“It took a few decades and a whole lot of people’s efforts,” said Todd, who led the DIF&W’s eagle recovery program. “But it actually feels good to see something go in the right direction.”

While many of the species in the poster are recognizable to the general public, there are a handful of endangered and threatened species in Maine that tend to fly under the radar. The six-whorl vertigo, for example, is a tiny snail that occurs at only one Aroostook County location. And the Roaring Brook mayfly and Katahdin Arctic butterfly, both found in Baxter State Park, are also on the list.

“We want people to know what’s at risk, the critters that are in jeopardy here in Maine,” Todd said.

The Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund also receives funding from the Chickadee Checkoff on Maine’s income tax form, and from purchases of the Loon Conservation License Plate. This fund is used to match and spend federally allocated State Wildlife Grant funds specifically for endangered and threatened species.

The 2016 Endangered and Threatened Species Poster and other merchandise is available through the DIF&W online store, reached by clicking a large brown button located in the right sidebar at www.maine.gov/ifw/. The poster can also be purchased at the DIF&W Headquarters at 284 State Street in Augusta.

 

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