New England’s new golden age of wildlife

So let’s look at it, at the long story of how science-based wildlife management, based on a set of principles developed in the 19th century, brought New England wildlife from its darkest days to an era when state agencies required hunters to eat more the animals.

In the broadest sense, what we see in our back forests and backyards today is the result of something called the North American Wildlife Conservation Model, which has eliminated commercial hunting and made states responsible for implementing policies to return populations to optimal levels, and then keep them there.

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

For the so-called game animals, this success was remarkable. In the year 1900 when it was commercial fishing Essentially banned nationally, there are only 500,000 white-tailed deer left in the United States. Today there are 30 million. Massachusetts has an estimated population of 93,000, despite its small size and country The third highest population density. Specialists say this is much more than we ever had, even before European colonization.

The Turks, which had disappeared from the state sometime around the Civil War due to habitat loss and poaching, were reintroduced to Massachusetts in the 1970s, beginning with 37 birds released in Berkshire. Today, there are 35,000 of them, so scattered all over, even in urban areas, that they have dropped so many people off the dot and yell list, something that has already happened with hawks and rabbits.

A fox cub played with another cub at the entrance to their den under the Pembroke Friends Meetinghouse in 2017.John Tlumaki / Globe Staff

When these turkeys were released in the 1970s, they didn’t have to worry so much about black bears. There were only 100 of them in the state. Fast forward to today and MassWildlife, the state The conservation agency that oversaw the science-based throwback estimates there are 4,500 in Massachusetts. And as views increase in the suburbs, they are definitely moving east.

And while it was hunters who got us in a lot of trouble, it was their money that got us out, funding the restoration of game species through the sale of licenses, tags, and stamps, plus a 1937 federal law that put an 11 percent tax on hunting weapons, including rifles, ammunition, and shooting gear. . In 1950, Congress imposed a similar tax on fishing gear and boats to fund the recovery of sport fish.

These funds have allowed states to preserve large tracts of land as “wildlife management areas,” which also allow non-game animals to thrive, said Eve Schlütter, assistant director of the state’s Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. on the conservation of native flora and fauna, with a focus on 432 species listed as endangered.

A male plate collects its reflection as he sits on the passenger side mirror of the car.John Tlumaki / Globe Staff

Of course, not all news is good. Not all animals thrive, and the problems facing wildlife are too many to list, with climate change and habitat loss high on the list, which is why Schlutter, like everyone interviewed for this story, has been wary about declaring any golden age. But that very morning she was walking her dog along the Assabet River in Maynard when an eagle soared over her, she allowed herself a moment to appreciate how wonderful such things were so unremarkable.

“There is always work to be done, but any time I am out in one of our wildlife management areas and look at an endangered moth or butterfly, or a rare plant that is back, I am happy to see what conservation and habitat management has accomplished,” she said.

Brian Evans is a postdoctoral student At the University of Maine, which as part of her Ph.D. research, she set up 600 motion cameras across the state and monitored them for four years, eventually taking more than a million photos of wildlife. Did she see evidence of the golden age?

“Every time I took out a memory card and looked at it, it was like Christmas morning,” she said. “I was expecting to find dead zones, but there were animals everywhere – poultry, hunters, red fox, cats, bears, lynx, weasels, you name it. I had 16 different wild animals walking by one camera in a two-week period. They were Here before we built our lawns, and now they’re back.”

Warm oriental turtle drawn on tree trunks.John Tlumaki / The Globe Staff

Wildlife has ebbed and flowed over the decades, said Will Staats, a prominent wildlife biologist who has spent decades working for New Hampshire’s Department of Fish and Game, but there was no doubt that many species—particularly those humans who hunt and fish—were not. Ever more healthy. . He said wildlife management is improving every year, with advances in science and technology allowing a more holistic view of the ecosystem.

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

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

Then we did what people do when talking about the wildlife renaissance – talk about all the things he had never seen as a kid, in his case in central Massachusetts in the 1960s. “I spent much of my childhood in the woods, and you couldn’t find any sign of a deer, let alone see one.” For those who grew up in more urban areas of the state, it’s easy to remember a time when mice were the only animals pointing and screaming.

Of course, this whole topic can be presented in another way. There is a lot of bad news in wildlife. There are animals that disappeared and never came back. There will always be new threats. And there is nothing particularly special about this moment, this golden age, except for his call to stay the course.

And when the children ask again why we insist on shouting “Gazelle!” Every time we see a deer, the answer is very simple: because it wasn’t like that before.


Billy Baker can be reached at billy.baker@globe.com. Follow him on Instagram Tweet embed.