The new golden age of wildlife in New England

So let’s take a closer look at it, into the long history of how science-based wildlife management, based on a set of principles developed in the 19th century, brought New England’s wildlife from its darkest days into an era in which government agencies begging hunters to eat more animals.

In the broadest sense, what we see in our backyard and backyard today is the result of something called the North American model of wildlife conservation, which eliminated commercial hunting and put states in charge of implementing policies to restore populations. to optimal levels, and then keep them there.

Massachusetts now has about 90,000 white-tailed deer. JohnTlumacki / Globe staff

For so-called wildlife, this success has been remarkable. In 1900, then commercial hunting was essentially banned nationally, there were only 500,000 white-tailed deer left in the United States. Today there are 30 million. Massachusetts has estimated 93,000 despite its small size and the country’s third highest population density. That is far more than we have ever had, say specialists, even before European colonization.

Turkeys, which disappeared from the state sometime around the Civil War thanks to a loss of habitat and overhunting, were reintroduced to Massachusetts in the 1970s, beginning with 37 birds released in the Berkshires. Today, there are 35,000 of them, so ubiquitous, even in urban areas, that they fell off many people’s point-and-shout list, something that has already happened to hawks and rabbits.

A fox cub played with another cub at the entrance to their cave during the Pembroke Friends Meetinghouse in 2017.John Tlumacki / Globe Staff

When those turkeys were released in the 70s, they did not have to worry too much about black bears. There were only 100 of them in the state. Fast forward to today and MassWildlife, the state The Conservation Agency, which has overseen the science-based rebound, estimates there are 4,500 in Massachusetts. And with increased observation in the suburbs, they are definitely moving east.

And even though it was hunters who got us into a lot of trouble, it was their dollars that got us out and financed the recovery of the game through the sale of licenses, stamps and stamps, as well as a federal law from 1937 that 11 percent excise duty on hunting weapons, including weapons, ammunition and archery equipment. In 1950, Congress imposed a similar tax on fishing and sailing equipment to fund the recovery of sport fish.

This money has allowed states to preserve vast areas of land as “wildlife management areas” that also allow non-wildlife to thrive, said Eve Schlüter, assistant director of the state’s Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program, a subdivision of MassWildlife that focuses on on the conservation of native plants and animals, with emphasis on 432 species listed as endangered.

A male oriole gathered his reflection while sitting on the passenger mirror of a car.John Tlumacki / Globe Staff

Of course, that’s not all good news. Not all animals thrive, and wildlife issues are too numerous to mention, with climate change and habitat loss at the top of the list, which is why Schlüter, like everyone interviewed for this story, was wary of declaring any golden age. But just that morning, she had been walking her dog along the Assabet River in Maynard when an eagle flew overhead, and she had given herself a moment to understand how remarkable it was that such things were transgressive.

“There is always work to be done, but every time I’m out in one of our wildlife management areas and I get a glimpse of an endangered moth or butterfly or a rare plant that comes back, I get a joy to see, what conservation and habitat management has achieved, ”she said.

Bryn Evans is a post-doc student at the University of Maine, which as part of its PhD research placed 600 motion-activated cameras across the state and monitored them for four years, eventually taking more than a million images of wildlife. Did she see signs of a golden age?

“Every time I pulled out a memory card and looked at it, it was like Christmas morning,” she said. “I was expecting to find dead areas, but there were animals everywhere – martens, fishermen, red foxes, bobcats, bears, lynx, weasels, you name it. I had 16 different land animals walked by a single camera in a two-week period. They were here before we built our lawns, and now they’re coming back. ”

An eastern painted turtle warmed itself on a tree trunk.John Tlumacki / Globe staff

Will Staats, a prominent wildlife biologist who spent decades working for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said wildlife ebbs and flows over the decades, but there was no doubt that many species – especially the people that hunt and catch – has never been healthier. And wildlife management is getting better every year, he said, with advances in science and technology that allow for a more holistic view of the ecosystem.

“But there’s a reason I never refer to myself as a wildlife expert, and that’s because it’s an art as well as a science,” he said. “Wildlife will teach you something new every day, but we get better tools every day.”

Ron Amidon, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Fish and Game, which oversees MassWildlife and the Division of Marine Fisheries, said he took the time to think about it when contacted by the Globe and asked about the idea of ​​a golden age. But the more he thought about it, the more he felt comfortable with the statement.

So we did, as people do when talking about this wildlife renaissance – he talked about all the things he never saw when he was a child, in his case Central Massachusetts in the 1960s. “I spent a wealth of my childhood in the woods and you could not find any sign of deer, let alone see one.” For those who grew up in more urban parts of the state, it is easy to remember a time when the only point-and-shout animals were the rats.

Of course, this whole topic could be presented in a different way. There is a lot of bad news in wildlife. There are animals that are gone and never come back. There will always be new threats. And there is nothing special about this moment, this golden age, apart from its call to stay the course.

And when children again ask why we insist on shouting “deer!” every time we see a deer, the answer is quite simple: For it used to not be like that.


Billy Baker can be contacted at billy.baker@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @billy_baker.

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