Aroostook County apparently had no white-tailed deer in 1850.
The debate over whether to return wolves to the state dates back to at least the 1880s.
And whether there is a resident mountain lion population here has been a question for centuries.
These are some of the wildlife questions that arise out of the historical accounts documented in “Early Maine Wildlife,” just released by the University of Maine Press in Orono.
The reference book is the work of William Krohn, a research biologist with the U.S. Geological Survey. Krohn wrote the book with help from Christopher Hoving, a former gradaute student at UMaine and now the endangered species coordinator at the Michigan Department for Natural Resources.
Krohn said the unique collection of accounts should shed light on the past, but not necessarily tell the story of Maine’s northern forestland.
“It’s a way of getting some insight into the past,” Krohn said. “Putting all the pieces together is not the purpose of the book. It’s just to assemble the information. The stories are yet to be told on how wildlife changed and why.”
But the accounts are many.
The 523-page book looked at 529 historical records or references, covering a period of 327 years. Canada lynx are mentioned in 117 historical records, moose in 192, white-tailed deer in 244, and mountain lion, caribou, wolves and wolverines in many others.
Krohn is careful to caution about the book’s limitations.
For example, he said Mainers centuries ago reported seeing “wildcats,” but it’s not clear whether the reference is to bobcats, Canada lynx or mountain lions.
Still, “Early Maine Wildlife” offers a rare glimpse into early Maine life.
George Matula, the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s endangered species coordinator, said in 29 years as a state biologist he’s never seen a resource like Krohn’s.
“Trying to go into all that literature that he eventually did is very difficult and very time consuming. And many of us biologists don’t have time to go into that type of thing,” Matula said.
Mark McCollough, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said looking at “Early Maine Wildlife” as a body of work, it paints a clear picture.
“uncovering this treasure of writing that occurred largely in the late 1800s, it really does provide a valuable historic reference to be able to try to piece together what happened to those animals,” McCollough said.
In fact, after reading Krohn’s book, McCollough now thinks the migration of white-tailed deer in the late 1890s up to Aroostook County may have led to the caribou’s decline, because of brain worm being passed from the deer to the caribou.
“They didn’t know what brain worm was then,” McCollough said. “It’s pretty apparent from the writing in this book that it wasn’t until the 1860s and the 1870s that you started to see deer with some frequency in central Maine. And it wasn’t until the 1870s that deer made it up to southern Aroostook County. They never really did occur there historically. It certainly is enlightening to me to see now the bigger picture of what happened.”
Krohn hopes people use the book as a resource and a starting point.
“Really the story in this book is just how dynamic and changeable things have been. The take-home message here is: wildlife populations are not static and they haven’t been. This book clearly shows this. And we need to stop thinking of them as static,” Krohn said.
Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at: