Summer has ended in Maine, and thousands of Maine sportsmen and women are taking to the woods in search of wild game. Hunting and fishing are major businesses in rural Maine, which is most of the state. The money spent on hunting licenses ($26.00 for a resident and $115.00 for a non-resident), lodging, meals, and hunting equipment brings over $200 million per year. Hunting alone is a major source of revenue for Maine businesses and state, county, and state governments.
Hunting in Maine goes back to before the state was first settled by European immigrants, reported to be 1602. Until the latter part of the 19th century, market hunting was a major source of revenue for the population of many small towns throughout the state. For many years, market hunters harvested Maine’s deer and moose and sold the saddles (The saddle is from the loin area in the lumbar region and is made up of the loin on either side of the animal. You could either buy it with the bone in or with the bone removed and rolled up into an easy-carve joint.) to brokers in towns such as Calais and Machias, who in turn shipped them to Boston.
I attended the Maine Bookfest in Hallowell and met a man who, upon learning that I was trom THE COUNTY, told me that I should read a book entitled George Magoon and The Down East Game War. Edward D. (Stoney) Ives wrote the book, and in it, he chronicles the life and stories (both fact and myth) of one of Washington County, Maine’s most prolific poachers. Ives taught classes in folklore at the University of Maine, Orono (one of his students was no other than Stephen King), and while researching the songs sung in the hunting, fishing, and logging camps in earlier days. It was on one of his visits to an old man who was a singer he first heard of George Magoon. It was one of those defining moments that most of us had when we first developed the fire that altered the direction of our life–remember the first story you ever wrote? I do but we won’t go there… it was truly awful.
I will blog more about George Magoon in a future blog. The most eye-opening aspect of Ives’s book is the history of the beginning of Maine’s wildlife conservation laws. Prior to 1870, people living in many of Maine’s rural areas considered themselves to be farmers. Unfortunately, a great many of them soon learned that the ground was not really conducive to raising crops (similar to what is happening today in Brazil and the deforestation of the Amazon). In truth the primary function of their farm was to be a base of operations, a way of providing the basic necessities. However, the basic source of their hard money came from lumbering. The lumber companies did not pay in cash, rather they issued credit in the company’s store. The depression that hit after the Panic of 1873 hit the woods hard and the cuts stayed small. Times were hard.
There was however another way in which the woods provided a source of revenue–havesting its wildlife. Hunting had long been a way of life for the denizens of backwoods, rural Maine. It would be rare fgamily that did not augment their larder with venison, moose, and/or partridge and killed on a regular basis. Then there were those who killed for the market.
Market hunting had long been a legal industry, however in the years between 1880 and 1920 it had become increasingly illegal, and the laws suppressing it became increasingly severe leading to the Lacy Act. (This was possibly the fore-runner to the Volstead Act–1917–led to the Eighteenth Amendment—which illegalized the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcohol.) First enacted in 1900, the Lacey Act combats trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish, or plants. The 2008 Farm Bill amended the Lacey Act and extended protections to a broader range of plants and plant products, making it unlawful to import certain products without an import declaration. The amendments focus on illegal logging and harvesting of wild plants, practices often linked to terrorist funding, political instability, deforestation, and unlawful trade.
Traditionally, control of wildlife was gicen to the coubties. The warden position was unsalaried the wardens kept half of the fines they collected. The system was not very effective. The state government stepped in and the Maine Warden Service was formed in 1880, when the founding wardens were appointed to enforce laws giving Maine’s moose and deer their first legal protection. From this modest beginning, the Maine Warden Service has grown to 124 uniformed members, making it the largest of the three bureaus within the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife. This would lead to what is now called the Down East Game War.
Who said nothing ever happens in Maine! In my next blog I will go into the particulars of the war and George Magoon’s role in it. If you’d like to order the book the url is: https://www.press.uillinois.edu/books/?id=p063305