Forty Acres and a Scrumptious Beaver

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Outside magazine, November 1997

Forty Acres and a Scrumptious Beaver

In northernmost Maine, laying out the welcome mat for the once-exiled gray wolf
By Paul Scott

T O  T H E

“Too bad it’s not possible to organize holidays like this, because it was fantastic.”

— Italian tourist Giorgio Bonanomi, on being held captive in Yemen last August by Dhabian tribesmen seeking leverage in their budgetary negotiations with the nation’s government. A hostage for four days, Bonanomi was fed lamb and exotic fruits, and the kidnappers delivered letters to his girlfriend.

By the time John and Sue Chase hop out of their pickup on a remote Maine logging road near the Quebec border, the early-evening storm clouds have given way to a sea of stars. Even with a clear sky, though, it gets very dark this deep in the north woods, and very quiet. So when John, a 42-year-old high school science teacher from Monson, starts
the rising, sustained “arrroooooooow” of a man trying to sound like a wolf, it tends to be somewhat disconcerting. Everyone’s howled at the moon once or twice in his life, but John’s version is a tad more believable, a long, mournful siren that abruptly croaks an octave higher before trailing off. After five long calls like this, Sue, holding a large parabolic microphone, tries to
hear if anyone howls back. She’s recording everything, but not getting much
of anything. Nor do we hear from any wolves on the next dozen carefully chosen stops we end up making this night. Indeed,
though the couple has been doing this for three years, they have yet to record so much as a peep.

“This is standard,” admits John, who along with Sue, 41 and also a high-school teacher, comprises the research arm of the Maine Wolf Coalition, a 300-member advocacy group based in Livermore Falls. “Silence.”

Of course, there aren’t supposed to be wolves in Maine, the animal having been officially eradicated from the northeastern United States more than 100 years ago. But recent events have led many to believe that the wolf is returning. The most popular theory holds that individuals and perhaps small packs are crossing over each winter, upon a frozen St.

There aren’t supposed to
be any wolves in Maine. But recent events have
led many to believe that
the animal has returned.

Lawrence River, from the woods of Quebec. Four years ago, a hunter shot and killed a 67-pound female near Moosehead Lake, 35 miles south of the border. Then, last winter, a trapper north of Ellsworth killed an 81-pound male that officials have since termed a “probable wolf.” The animal’s genetic profile is such that the possibility that it had been a pet, a wolf-dog
hybrid, can’t be ruled out. But among other things, the beaver found in its stomach seems to imply otherwise. “The animal had a hard life, I can tell you that,” says Craig McLaughlin, a biologist with the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, citing its broken teeth, worn claws, and injured jaw. “And he was right on the measurements for an eastern gray wolf.” More
than 100 sightings have also been reported across the state over the last five years, news that, in contrast to the acrimony surrounding the wolf’s return out west, seems not to be causing much of an uproar among the locals. While a few hunters have raised concerns about the effect of wolves on game stocks, most folks seem willing to let nature take its course. This month, for
example, the MWC plans to present a 13,000-signature pro-wolf petition to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, a fairly strong show of support in a state with little more than a million residents.

Thus buoyed by their fellow Down Easterners, the Chases spend an average of ten hours a week in search of Canis lupus. “State wildlife officials have told us that we just have to find some tracks and get a good recording of a howl, and when we do they’ll take it from there,” says John. “The next step would be to fit a few with radio collars and follow them to see if they belong
to packs. That’ll determine whether we have a stable wolf population here, and start the dialogue over what should be done about it.”

Upon finishing another fruitless howl, the Chases shuffle back to the truck, make notations on their legal pads, and then start off on the short drive to the next site. “What keeps us going is the firm belief that we’re going to hear something one day,” John says, pointing out a habitat replete with 35,000 moose and 300,000 deer, enough to whet the appetite of any
self-respecting predator. As the night wears on, there’s an increasing urgency to his howls, as if he’s desperately trying to convey this very point. “If I were a wolf from Quebec and I made it here,” he says, steeling himself for one final unrequited bellow into the still night air, “I’d certainly want to stay. To a hungry wolf, this would seem like the Promised Land.”

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