The Feb. 29 Bangor Daily News article about Maine’s changing wilderness claims that wolves, caribou, panthers and rattlesnakes are “now…all gone.” This implies that they are gone forever. This could not be further from the truth.
The timber rattlesnake is believed to be extirpated in Maine. As a specialist species, its range in Maine was always very limited. The closest known population to Maine is a single location in southern New Hampshire. There is no reason to believe, given adequate protection and given the fact that habitat still exists, that the rattlesnake could not be successfully reintroduced in Maine to areas where it formerly existed.
The caribou is another specialist species. It relies on old-growth forest for food and shelter during certain times of the year. Two ill-fated attempts to reintroduce caribou to Maine occurred in the 1960s and 1980s. The former attempt failed because it involved adult caribou with existing migration patterns. The attempt in the 1980s failed because most of the caribou that were released had been infected with brainworm while in captivity in Orono.
Woodland caribou continue to live on Quebec’s Gaspe Peninsula, a little more than 100 miles from Maine. Woodland caribou habitat remains in the mountains of New Hampshire and Maine, although much of northern Maine is currently being clearcut. Again, there is no reason to believe that a properly done reintroduction with habitat protection and restoration could not succeed.
The animal called the panther, cougar, mountain lion, catamount, etc. may never have been extirpated from the northeast and maritime Canada. Due to its need for large territories, it likely never lived in Maine in significant numbers. While there is no doubt that a reintroduction of these animals would be successful, there is certainly growing evidence that they exist in Maine and in neighboring states and Canadian provinces.
Wolves were alleged to have been extirpated in Maine more than a century ago. Destruction of their natural prey by humans combined with killing by humans, resulted in the near extirpation of wolves in Maine. It is unlikely that they ever completely disappeared, however, because of Maine’s proximity to wolf populations in Canada, the availability of habitat and prey, and the ability of wolves to travel great distances.
The state and federal governments claim that there is no wolf population in Maine with little supporting evidence. Despite growing evidence that, in fact, wolves are present in Maine, the state and federal governments are doing nothing to promote natural wolf recovery. Instead, they are opposing natural wolf recovery by promoting the killing of wolves and the killing of coyote/wolf hybrids.
Since 1993, no less than nine wolves have been documented as killed south of the St. Lawrence River. The largest was a 107-pound male killed within 20 miles of Quebec City. The northeast U.S., including Maine, still contains tens of thousands of square miles of potential wolf habitat and abundant prey.
While there is growing evidence that wolves are returning on their own, other species not mentioned in the Bangor Daily News article have made huge comebacks thanks to time and money spent to reintroduce them. These include the puffin, peregrine falcon, and wild turkey. All were here in 1820 when Maine became a state and all were extirpated in Maine by humans. The false and unsupported premise of this article is that the caribou, mountain lion, rattlesnake and wolf are gone from Maine forever.
If we can restore puffins, falcon, and turkeys, we can restore other species that need our help, from box turtles to golden eagles. In some cases it will take time and money. In others, like the wolf, we only need to live and let live.
John M. Glowa, Sr. of South China is president and co-founder of The Maine Wolf Coalition.