Sandra Neily here: I see that another Maine Crime Writer has written about George Smith who does deserve lots of attention and accolades. He was a good friend and I have some good George stories.
But first, in honor of this amazing man and if you love Maine’s outdoors as he did, please buy an Outdoor Heritage Fund lottery ticket, or three or thirty. Thanks to George and Maine Audubon (where I worked at the time), millions of dollars are raised to fund urgent wildlife projects that Maine can’t afford. George explains more.
(It’s the only lottery ticket I buy. I stuff them into envelopes for birthdays and holidays. They make great cheap gifts and encourage recipients to ‘pay it forward’ and buy lots more.)
Here are two George Smith stories.
I once created a research grant to solve what I called the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine problem after a ride home in a packed car of discouraged Maine Audubon staffers. We’d just suffered through another discouraging day at the legislature where SAM testified against everything we hoped to accomplish. That day it was our failed efforts to add some birds, invertebrates, and butterflies to Maine’s list of species at risk.
For a month I asked people how to solve the SAM problem. Most people said (often affectionately) something about how Executive Director George Smith was in the way. My favorite suggestion was, “send him to Siberia fishing for 6 months. He’d like that.”
I invited George to lunch (we usually ate sandwiches outside) and told him I had money (hence lunch at Slates in Hallowell), and told him about the grant and the Siberia thing. He LOVED it. The Siberia thing. I told him I’d let him hire the project researcher from a pool of applicants, if he’d open SAM’s files, documents, and archives to the process of creating a report with recommendations.
We discovered we had different missions. SAM advocates for its members who pursue and enjoy wildlife; it is active in support of species they catch or hunt. Maine Audubon advocates for the health of Maine’s wildlife, encouraging members to get involved in discovery and conservation.
But the most important thing we discovered was a lack of resources and funding to take care of all of Maine’s wildlife needs. The competition for scarce resources had our groups competing for our respective missions.
The result of our work together was Watching Out for Maine’s Wildlife. It went to every legislator and circulated for years as a problem- solving document that also enabled our organizations to work together when we could and not savage each other when we could not.
My second story.
George and I were on opposite sides of a table in a tense meeting. SAM was proposing bounties on coyotes, maintaining they caused the decline in northern deer populations. (Having hunters try to kill more coyotes only makes them breed more. The coyotes.) I’d already given George a cartoon from the SAM newsletter (which showed a proud hunter with a coyote strung up at a tagging station) where I’d cut out the coyote, and replaced it with a picture of a harvesting skidder hanging in the air like a dead animal. (Rampant harvesting of winter tree shelters caused outsized deer mortalities.)
George smiled genuinely, pretty much always appreciating my sense of humor. Then he started in on wolves and how it was essential that Maine pass legislation making it illegal to even think about re-introducing them. I scribbled a note, put it under my shoe, and slide it over to his shoes. He picked it up and looked at me. The note read, “Guess what reduces coyote populations better than hunters could ever hope to do?”
He raised his shoulders quietly. I smiled a wicked smile and mouthed, “Wolves. They hate coyotes.” His loud laugh had the room looking our way, so we ducked our heads and pretended to take notes.
Years later I took on the wolf issue and the sportsman issue in my first novel. I sent him draft pages where I’d used a bit of my knowing him to create a character. He read them and called me right back, saying he couldn’t wait to read it. His review is in the editorial section of Amazon’s DEADLY TRESPASS page. (I’ve added a relevant George excerpt from the novel at the end, here.)
George was a generous man and also a life-long learner. I will let Bob Duchesne explain it so clearly.
George Smith picked up birding binoculars late in life and bridged a divide
By Bob Duchesne, BDN 2/22/21
George Smith passed away last week.
He was probably least known as a birder, but he was.
For those of us who care about birds, George’s story reveals a truism: We have all come to birds in our own unique ways. I was 6 when I embraced birding. George was 60. …
… Like most hunters, George had keen powers of observation. When such a person spends a lot of time in a tree stand, they notice the other critters in the woods. As George related to me several times, he’d be sitting still, blending into the background, and the warblers would start moving around him. Only, in his quintessential Yankee accent, he called them “wobblers.”
… One spring morning, I met George and his wife, Linda, at their house in Mt. Vernon. We walked his property and the neighborhood road as I showed him all the wobblers that were living there. He was astounded, and mad at himself. All these great birds had been living next to him for all these years and he didn’t even know they were there!
George was hooked. He bought binoculars and a spotting scope – probably the first scope he ever owned that didn’t have crosshairs.
… Even before he developed a sudden passion for birds, George’s appreciation for nature led him to realizations that benefited all wildlife in the state. Although much of his career was spent lobbying on game issues, he recognized that nongame species were part of a healthy ecosystem that served everybody. The entire food chain was important. I was truly surprised when this conservative hook-and-bullet Republican came into the Natural Resources Committee during my freshman year, hand-in-hand with Maine Audubon, to advocate for protection of vernal pools. Later, George grew dismayed at how lead sinkers were killing loons and lead ammunition was killing eagles.
George collaborated with Maine Audubon multiple times over the years, starting with the popular Chickadee Checkoff that underwrites the state’s Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund. … George figured out early that if the sporting communities and wildlife communities got together, there was no conservation goal they couldn’t achieve.
His passing is a tremendous loss to Maine’s birding community. Twenty years ago, nobody would have seen that coming. Bob Duchesne developed the Maine Birding Trail, with information at mainebirdingtrail.com.
With George’s blessing and some fictional license, Mike Leavitt in “Deadly Trespass” came to life. (The line about agreeing only “on trout” is verbatim George and me.)
Excerpt: I was squeezed behind the staff table sharing a pot of tea with Mike Leavitt. Mike lived for mint tea heavy with honey and didn’t care if it was served on plastic picnic tablecloths or law firm mahogany. Governors made appointments, but the executive director of the Maine Association of Sportsmen and Trappers got into the senate president’s office—or any office, camp, or truck—without an appointment because Mike Leavitt was the most powerful man in Maine.
I waved Ian toward us. “Ian Glenburn of the Bangor Weekly, meet Mike Leavitt, better known as the Sportsman’s Santa.” Ian ran a quick hand through sleep-smashed, dripping hair.
… Mike beamed at me. He turned to Ian. “We can’t explain it, but somehow Patton and I seem to be friends who don’t agree on anything but trout.”
Ian crushed his cup and crouched on the milk crate, notebook open. … Mike grunted. “You tell it, Patton. You always get it right.”
I rattled off my standard MAST explanation. “Mike and his mostly men members side with corporate forest land owners because owners have the keys to the gates. Behind the gates, nine million acres of hunting, fishing, and trapping are the Promised Land. MAST members will work on protections for fish or bear or turkeys and other game species when those protections won’t upset their more important relationships. In short, MAST votes for whatever the corporate owners say they need.”
Mike raised his voice, throwing his politics toward boots clumping into the dining room on the other side of the wall. “Well done, my dear. Some folks think the enviro-movement was started by Rachel Carson whining over dead birds, or wilderness nuts like John Muir.” Thumping his chest with both hands, he pounded out a kettledrum echo. “We started it. Hunters. We taxed ourselves to return wild turkeys, ducks, elk, bobcat, deer, bear—and there must be more I forgot.”
Thank you, George.
Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine,” was a finalist in the Maine Literary Awards, a recipient of a Mystery Writers of America national award and a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest. Her second Mystery in Maine novel, “Deadly Turn” is now in Sherman’s Books and on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. She lives in the Maine woods and says she’d rather be “fly fishing, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there.” Find more info on her website.
GREAT post, Sandy. I met George a time or two, and know his daughter slightly. I was saddened by his passing and have been moved by the many tributes to him, including this one and Charlene’s. That people from both sides of the table had so much admiration for George says it all. Thank you for such an inspirational start to my day.
Much appreciated, Brenda. Wishing we had more people who could
bridge divides. I did first know him when he was at his most SAM powerful. Not much compromise then. Thinking the relationships he developed with us at Maine Audubon moved him along.
Wonderful post! We saw George a few years back when he did an author talk at the Lubec Memorial Library. The thing that stuck in my head from everything he said was that he’s succeeded as a father because he had a child who was completely opposite him politically. It was painful, he went on to say, but he was proud that she could think independently.
Oh my. That was a good George one, John. And he took some of that wisdom to the table with us as we negotiated wildlife issues, that weren’t comfortable for his membership. But birding especially brought him very close to the habitat loss. I miss him already. Thx!