Moose calves and deer fawns are generally born in May and June. “If you care, leave them there.”
I began my game warden career in the Caribou District during the summer of 1994 and transferred to the Masardis District the following April. That district stretched from the towns of Masardis and Oxbow Plantation on the east end all the way to Churchill Lake on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway on the west end.
Game wardens were always required to live in their assigned areas. However, due to limited housing in Masardis and Oxbow, I was able to apply for and receive a variance to live in Ashland.
I rented the bottom half of a house owned by Sarah Brooks. She actually lived at the McCormick Farm along Route 11 in Nashville Plantation. The Ashland house was on Route 227 — the State Road — across from Game Warden Investigator Terry Hunter.
One day in early June of 1995, I received a radio call from the state police barracks in Houlton. A resident of Oxbow had requested that a game warden contact him about an orphan moose.
There were no issued cellphones at that time. Wardens needing to make a phone call had to find a phone somewhere, such as at a local police department, their own home or a payphone. I had an issued AT&T calling card and had the 16-digit number memorized.
I called Oxbow and was told by Dwinal Grass that he had come across an orphaned moose calf while cutting wood on the lot behind his house. The cow was nowhere to be seen. He brought the calf home and was in need of advice on how to proceed.
I thought it was likely that the cow moose wasn’t far away and that the calf’s best chance was to be placed back where it had been found. I told him to return it and give it overnight to be located and reunited with the cow. He agreed and took the calf back to the woods.
I talked to him the following morning and learned the calf was in the same location with no sign of the cow. Arrangements were made for it to be transported to Arthur Howell’s wildlife rehabilitation facility in Amity.
Central Maine residents may recall Art and one-winged “Bart” the bald eagle, which made annual appearances at the Eastern Maine Sportsmen’s Show in Orono.
Off-duty State Trooper Tammy Doyle offered her services and a horse trailer for the transport. I was there and assisted with the project. The calf, which was a bull, wasn’t very old. I vividly remember it standing next to me.
In those days, game wardens carried six-shot revolvers and speed loaders, small devices that contained six extra bullets and were carried on the front of the gun belt. The calf attempted to suckle the large brass snap on the leather case of the speed loader. It was small.
The transfer and transport to North Amity was successful. Art nurtured and raised the calf, naming it “Morris.” As Art told me, he attempted to release the moose back into the wild, but it lingered about the outskirts of the facility. It had not developed any fear of human activity.
There was concern about its presence among residences and road traffic. Consequently, Morris ended up remaining in captivity.
Early in 2006, prior to my transfer to the Bangor District, I took my wife and two young sons on a field trip to Art Howell’s wildlife refuge. Morris was still there. He was 11 years old. The moose was very big, easily weighing 1,000 pounds. It was hard to believe it was the same 50-pound calf from Oxbow.
These situations can be difficult to reconcile. It is important to remember that human intervention should be a last resort. The state relies on volunteer wildlife rehabilitators, who can easily be overwhelmed by large numbers of animals being transported to their facilities.
Only the animals with the best chance for survival should be transferred, and only after an adequate amount of time has gone by in the field. They can’t all be saved, particularly when an injury is involved.
The best course of action, initially, is no action. Allow the adult females adequate time to reunite with their young. This would include the first overnight period.
Do not rush to conclusions about the animal’s condition or situation. If the animal of concern isn’t hearty enough to survive overnight, it may well be an indication of it being a weak offspring left by the adult.
The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has a slogan: “If you care, leave them there.” It is simple, but true. Refrain from intervening when possible. Let nature take its course. Nothing will go to waste. It is the cycle of life.
Some animal always benefits from another’s demise. That being said, there are certain circumstances where appropriate intervention results in a saved animal.
Sometimes, the animals can be reared or rehabilitated and provide a valuable educational experience. Visitors to Art Howell’s wildlife refuge had a unique opportunity to observe the iconic Maine moose up close and learn about its behavior and biology.