State of Maine's Environment 2005
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An Environmental Assessment  
     
   

Wildlife Conservation and the Maine North Woods

Caitlin M. Cleaver

 

Introduction

Loss and degradation of habitat are principal causes leading to species endangerment and extinction.1  Large tracts of land are needed particularly to maintain viable populations of large carnivores.2  This conflict between wildlife conservation and land use practices has a number of implications for land resource policy. In the United States, legislation is in place to protect populations and habitats of certain species; however, this legislation frequently only protects those populations that are in critical need of attention.1  Economic interest often supercedes habitat protection.2  This holds true because many people believe that conservation efforts will interfere with and diminish economic activities and result in significant costs through loss of jobs and income.2  This mindset and increasing development remains an obstacle to conserving large tracts of land that would best maintain viable populations of large mammals and top predators.2  In Maine, wildlife contributes to the economy through wildlife-related recreation such as hunting, fishing, trapping, and viewing.3  Thus wildlife should be valued and protected for its economic contributions, but also its scientific, educational, aesthetic, and intrinsic values.3   

Maine’s unique habitat supports high diversity of wildlife. Conservation is needed to preserve wildlife and reduce the negative impacts humans can have on species.3  Currently only 15% of Maine is considered conservation land, including land under “working forest” conservation easements, multiple use public lands, private conservation lands, state Ecological Reserves, and others.3  Fifty-five percent of the land in Maine is privately owned and is regulated by the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC).4  Because of private ownership, no large scale conservation areas aside from Baxter State Park exist. Acadia National Park and other small state parks are not large enough to support large, wide-ranging mammals.5  However, Maine has the potential to support wide-ranging wildlife like the wolf as well as other species in need of large habitats due to a low population density and little development in the northern region. These species may not be able to persist without adequate habitat protection.5 

Approximately one percent of the land in Maine is federally owned; the potential for a national park to be implemented is limited.3  Ninety percent of Maine is rural and not highly populated, the implications of sprawl may limit the amount of quality habitat that is potentially available for future conservation.3  The state will need to integrate landscape conservation into its agenda due to the lack of federal jurisdiction combined with the opportunity to set aside vast lands in the North Maine Woods.

            In this paper, I begin by describing the context of wildlife conservation by reviewing the history of land use, attitudes towards large mammals, and the federal and state legislation in place for the protection of wildlife. I then examine the ecological context of human threats to wildlife. I look at the reintroduction and expansion of wolf populations as a case study for an example of the need for large landscape conservation efforts which can be applied to the vast Maine North Woods. I then use GIS maps to assess the possibility of wolves recolonizing Maine. I conclude with recommendations for wildlife conservation in Maine.

Methods

I collected information from journal articles concerning large carnivore conservation, wolf reintroduction, and habitat fragmentation; and visited websites for federal and state government agencies that work with habitat and species protection, such as the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

To analyze the potential for large land area conservation in Maine, I created GIS maps showing road density in mostly northern Land-Use Regulation Commission (LURC) areas versus mostly southern Non- LURC areas. Data were downloaded from the Maine Office of GIS. Arc9 was used to calculate road lengths, area of designated lands, and road densities, which were calculated for LURC, Non-LURC, the proposed Maine Woods National Park boundary, and the Plum Creek proposed development area boundary in order to assess the possibility of these areas supporting large mammals.

Context 

Historical

During the period of western expansion in the late 1800s in the US, the federal government did not have policies to protect large tracts of land. Federal policy suggested efforts to settle wilderness areas and to exploit the resources these areas had to offer.6  This period of expansion was a time when the federal government wanted to promote development of newly explored lands by shifting ownership of public lands and resources into private hands.7  Natural resources were seen as a way to gain wealth.7  These federal policies of privatization exhibited using land for economic gain and efficiency while ignoring the ecological and intrinsic values of publicly owned land.

Changing notions of public ownership over natural resources came to the forefront in the 19th century. This shift was partially due to the evidence that natural resources were being rapidly depleted; wildlife populations were not what they once were.7  As a conservation ethic began to emerge, land policies addressed ecological values and concerns for recreation and wildlife.7  In 1964, Congress showed support for the preservationist ideas and passed the Wilderness Act, which designated wilderness areas on public lands.7 

The philosophy behind protecting land in the past was not necessarily for the ecological and resource benefits, but rather for factors involving “opportunity, aesthetics, local economic impacts, surrounding land uses, and political support.” 6  Land is protected for reasons ranging from historical significance to biological importance.6  Recently, management agencies increasingly recognize the need to conserve biodiversity and link networks of already preserved land to ensure the survival of wildlife.7

Balancing conservation and economic objectives can be controversial and cause a lack of public support for environmental policies. Rasker and Hackman2 conducted a study in Montana of the difference between the economic status of counties with protected lands and those counties dependent on resource-extraction over a three decade time period; the economic status was measured by number of jobs and income growth and diversification.2  Because the extraction of resources from areas designated as national parks or wilderness is illegal, surrounding counties must survive on other economic means. In this study, counties near these natural areas have not experienced economic loss in comparison to resource extraction dependent communities.2  They found counties with protected lands had higher rates of employment and higher incomes than the rest of the state and country. These findings emphasize that carnivore conservation and preservation of lands may help the economy although carnivores can still negatively affect the income of a few, specific individuals, mainly livestock owners.2

The public view of large carnivores, for example wolves and bears has paralleled the views of wilderness and was initially negative. The first European settlers saw the wolf as a dangerous animal to oneself or livestock.8  Persecution of the wolf and human settlement of wild areas reflected pioneers’ ability to overcome obstacles and transform the landscape into economic use.8  Even President Theodore Roosevelt, a respected environmentalist, considered the wolf “the beast of waste and desolation”.8 

During the 20th century, ideas began to shift. The wolf and other large mammals became symbol of wilderness and of the destruction of wildlife, because of their increasing rarity as numbers dwindled.8  At this point, many people support the conservation of charismatic wildlife, because of their educational, aesthetic, scientific, and ecological values.8  However, others continue to believe large carnivores are a threat to their livestock.8  Unfortunately, those who negatively view large carnivores often live near suitable habitat for or populations of these animals.8  In particular, some rural livestock owners do not support large carnivore protection because carnivores cause economic loss when they attack livestock.9   

 

Legislation

Federal

 At the federal level, a species-specific approach to protection has been taken with the enactment of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).10  This legislation is one of the most stringent environmental laws enacted and embraces recent reforms to natural resource conservation objectives.10  The act was adopted by the federal government in 1973 and an Endangered Species Committee was created with a 1982 amendment. This committee designed a complex set of qualifications for designating the status of a species as endangered or threatened; locating critical habitat for protection; enforcing recovery plans for each species listed; and regulating agencies’ actions that affect species and their habitats.10 

The Act protects only those species that are nearing extinction and require immediate attention for preservation. In order to gain listing, a species must serve as evolutionary significant units (ESU), meaning their lineage must be isolated. This excludes the protection of hybrids.1  The listing of a species requires scientific and commercial data. Once a species is listed, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) must designate critical habitat and develop a species recovery plan. The ESA requires all federal agencies to consult with the USFWS to ensure the maintenance of critical habitat; that other agencies actions will not in any harm the habitat of an enlisted species.11  Furthermore, the removing of a listed species from either public or private land is illegal. Private land owners are still able to make decisions that may affect a species as long as the landowner develops an impact assessment and earns federal authorization.5        

Despite the ESA’s lack of a landscape approach, the Act works to protect species that serve as umbrella or flagship species. A flagship species is a popular species in such as the grizzly bear. The high profile of charismatic species can be used to guarantee public support and secure funding for conservation. Umbrella species are those species that have a large habitat requirement. By protecting the habitat of an endangered, umbrella species, many other species are included within that ecosystem, thereby gaining protection.1

Problems with the ESA involve a lack of funding, insufficient data to create effective recovery programs, lack of cooperation among related agencies, delayed listing of species until populations have reached critically low levels, and inability to protect critical habitats.1  Currently, 81 mammal species are listed as endangered or threatened under the federal ESA.12  Many other avian, amphibian, reptilian, and fish species are listed and 1,041 of those species have approved recovery plans.12  In 2002, the US Fish and Wildlife Service had to suspend the listing of some species due to a lack of funding. The Act has had success in conserving some of the nation’s charismatic species such as the American bald eagle.10  However, only 73 species have been “de-listed”. De-listing can occur if a species goes extinct, there is a taxonomic change, or more research of the species recovers unknown populations and individuals.12  As of 2002, only 12 species were de-listed as a result of taxonomic changes. Only 14 species were de-listed because the species had sufficiently recovered from declining populations.13

 

Maine

In the US, wildlife is considered the property of the state, unless the species is protected under the Federal ESA. The state is thus responsible for maintaining species populations.11  Maine’s Endangered Species Act was enacted in 1975. The Act provides a mandate for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to protect all Maine species and the ecosystems in which they persist. The Federal Act evaluates the status of a species across the nation while the Maine-specific Act is concerned only with species at risk within the state. Also the Maine Act only protects animal species; endangered plant species are covered under the Maine Natural Areas Program. As of 2003, 49 species found in Maine are listed under the Maine ESA, the federal ESA, or both (Appendix I).14  Species are designated as threatened, endangered, extirpated, or special concern (Table 1).

 

Table 6. Description of categories under the Maine Endangered Species Act14

Terms for Listing

Description

Endangered

Any species of fish or wildlife determined by the commissioner of the MDoIFW to be close to extinction throughout its entire or a significant portion of its home range.

Threatened

Any species of fish or wildlife determined by the commissioner to become an endangered species in the near future throughout its entire or a significant portion of its home range

Special Concern

An unofficial list and species are not protected under any legislation but includes any species of fish or wildlife that may be vulnerable to endangerment or could become threatened

Extinct

A species that has completely died out and no longer exists on Earth

Extirpated

A species that no longer exists within the state of Maine but persists elsewhere

Endemic

Native to/ only found within a certain area or region and nowhere else on Earth

 

Maine’s mammal species that are listed under the ESA include the larger mammals and predators (Table 2). Of the three cat species, two are listed under both the federal and state’s ESAs. Also, the gray wolf, one of the four canine species and one of the larger canine species has been extirpated. Those species that are listed, with the exception of the Northern Bog Lemming, tend to be the larger and top predator species, rather than the smaller mammals that can persist within smaller habitats.

 

Table 7. Maine mammal species listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act and/or the Maine Endangered Species Act14

Species

Federal Listing

State Listing

Northern Bog Lemming

 

Threatened

Gray Wolf

Endangered

Extirpated

Bobcat

Threatened

Special Concern

Puma (Eastern Cougar, Mountain Lion)

Endangered

Extirpated

Caribou

Endangered

Extirpated

 

In order to improve state protection of wildlife species, Congress enacted State Wildlife Grants in 2001.15  The amount of funding received by each state is based upon human population as well as land area of the state.15  The grant requires states to develop a comprehensive wildlife conservation strategy. Different agencies collaborate in order to formulate this plan which addresses the future conservation strategies and defines the roles of involved actors. The main focus of the plan requires protection of the species and habitats most at risk as well as maintaining common species’ populations and strengthening political actors, such as nonprofit organizations and conservation agencies.15  Maine has received over $2.5 million in grant money to put towards projects and research ensuring the survival of wildlife and the protection of important habitat.15  Funded projects are researching lynx, moose, and bald eagle populations as well as developing habitat management plans for listed species throughout the state.15    

Another source of funding for these types of projects and others is Maine’s Endangered and Non-game Wildlife Fund which was established in 1983 beginning with a check off option on state income tax forms. With revenue from taxes and limited federal funding, the Maine Endangered Species Program was started. To generate more funds, the Loon License Plate registration was started in 1994. Any funding generated from these activities plus private donations go directly to helping wildlife through research projects.14  Figure 1 shows that the public initially supported funding wildlife but then the trend decreases slightly for the tax form check-off, perhaps due to the introduction of the license plate registration. The license plate registration probably slowed because the number of new cars registered decreased over time.

 

Figure 9. Funding for Maine’s Endangered and Nongame Wildlife Fund14

 

Ecological Context: Threats to Wildlife

Habitat degradation and fragmentation are the major threats to biodiversity.16  Fragmentation targets most species. Specifically, larger mammals and carnivores are negatively affected by fragmentation because they have extensive habitat requirements. In particular, the development of roads and other infrastructure has the potential to alter vegetation and soil composition, restrict wildlife movement, increase mortality by vehicle collisions, and increase edge effect.17  Edge effect is the exposure of habitat to roads or other barriers occurring when habitat is divided and fragmented, which can have a negative impact certain species.18 

Roads create barriers to the dispersal of individuals within a species. Specific species are more susceptible to the barrier effect and habitat degradation. More vulnerable species include those that are long-lived, have large home ranges, low population densities, and low reproductive rates.19  These characteristics typically fit large carnivores. If a population cannot disperse across roads or in the presence of roads (barrier effect), separation of individuals could potentially lead to isolated populations and eventually to genetic problems and subdivision within those populations.17  Smaller populations are unstable and more susceptible to local extinction.19

Because of the general shape of roads, forest interior species are more susceptible to the impacts of roads. Roads cut directly through interior habitat creating larger tracts of edge. Increased edge can lead to easier access to the interior by humans, predators and invasive species as well as potentially increasing the spread of disease. Generally, large carnivores and ungulates (animals with hooves) avoid buffer areas around roads and the heavier the traffic volume the higher the rate of avoidance.17  

Not only does the physical existence of roads pose a problem, but the volume of traffic may also negatively affect wildlife populations, in particular by increasing mortality rates from vehicle collisions of certain populations. In some cases, vehicle mortalities exceed the rate of natural death caused by disease or predation. Mammals experience the second highest mortality rate from collisions after avian species.17

Landscape connectivity is another important factor for wildlife. Individuals need to be able to roam freely through suitable habitat in order to colonize other areas or enhance the gene pool of declining isolated populations.17  Roads prevent connectedness between habitats and create barriers throughout habitat matrices. Hence large roadless areas are ideal for wildlife populations.17

Protected habitats within a developing landscape are often too small and usually too isolated to support large carnivores.20  The theory of island biogeography, which suggests that more species will be lost from smaller, more isolated islands in comparison to larger, more connected islands.20  Thus larger areas must be planned for in areas where development is fragmenting the habitat and creating patches.

Human impact goes beyond road development to include deforestation. For example, clearing or thinning of forests degrades habitat by increasing edge effect and altering the vertical stratification of the forest.16, 21  Forests after a clear-cut are structurally simple and usually consist of one uniform canopy layer, with limited tree species and understory vegetation; vegetation composition dictates fauna compostion.21  In contrast, the logging practice of thinning areas rather than clear-cutting may actually increase biodiversity by creating structural habitat diversity. A study conducted by Sullivan et al. found that forests will support the same forest floor small mammal species as young un-thinned forests if properly managed after thinning.21  The composition of small mammals is important in that they support larger carnivores as prey populations. Other human-induced threats to wildlife include overexploitation through the practices of hunting, trapping, and trade and impacts of human-generated pollution on critical habitats.18

Maine

With more than 17.5 million acres of forest, more than 5,600 lakes and ponds, 5 million acres of wetlands, 31,800 miles of rivers and streams, Maine offers diverse habitats that support many mammal species.3  The Maine North Woods region is made up of a combination between boreal and temperate forests across a range of elevations.3    

Maine supports a total of 61 non-marine mammal species (Appendix I). Maine’s mammals are extremely diverse in part due to the state’s combination of boreal and temperate forests as well as the Hot Continental Division in southern Maine which allows for species typically found further south to persist within the state such as the New England Cottontail.3  The larger mammals and carnivores include the bobcat, black bear, eastern coyote, gray fox, red fox, white-tailed deer, woodland caribou, moose, gray wolf (no known breeding populations, but recorded sightings), and Canada lynx.3

The bobcat inhabits most of the state and is hunted and trapped. The Bobcat Management System, overseen by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, ensures maintenance of the population.3  Currently, the population is believed to be increasing due to the increase in their major prey’s population, the snowshoe hare.15  The Canada Lynx was listed in 2000 as a threatened species under the federal ESA and is considered a species of Special Concern in Maine due to a lack of population size and distribution data. Originally lynx were found throughout the state but more recently they have only been sighted in the northern and western regions. The population found in this region is known to be reproducing and may be genetically connected to populations in Canada. In 2006, the lynx will be considered for a listing as endangered or threatened under the Maine ESA.15

The gray wolf is federally listed as endangered for Maine by the federal ESA and as extirpated under the state’s ESA. Currently, there are no data about the existence of a viable population within the state.3 The eastern coyote is found throughout the state and is abundant. The coyote brings about controversy because of its impact on deer populations and public pressure to control or eliminate some populations.3  The American black bear is the only bear species found in the state. An estimate 23,000 individuals are distributed throughout the state. The population has been managed since 1981 and continues to be hunted and trapped.3

The moose is a major game species in Maine. The moose reached its lowest population numbers, estimated at 2,000 individuals, in the early 1900s due to over-hunting and habitat loss. However the population has recovered to approximately 29,000 individuals in response to protection from overexploitation and improved habitat.3  The white-tailed deer is also a popular hunted species. The deer population has increased over the century due to a decrease in predatory species including the extirpation of the wolf and cougar, a decrease in the severity of winters, and the modification of habitat by logging and clearing. Currently some areas of Maine need an increase in the deer population but others require a decrease.3

Large mammal and carnivore species that have been extirpated (i.e. those hat once existed in Maine but no longer do) from the state include the eastern cougar, gray wolf, woodland caribou and the wolverine.3  These species may no longer persist here due to overexploitation, destruction of their habitats, or natural causes.14 

In the Maine North Woods the majority of lands are privately owned and considered unorganized territories with zoning laws enforced by the Land Use Regulation Commission (LURC).4  LURC oversees any development that is proposed for the Maine North Woods (see Chapter by Sandy Beauregaurd). In contrast, the southern region of the state is continually being developed. Without the protection of these unorganized lands and enforced legislation, the Maine North Woods is subject to development and ownership by small land holders. The unorganized territories of Maine provide excellent opportunities for landscape level wildlife conservation.

Case Study: Reintroduction of Wolves

Protection of large carnivores can be controversial, because an increase in carnivore populations or the recolonization of an area, an increase in carnivore- human conflict is likely. Ecological needs do not always coincide with economic needs.22 Minnesota and Wisconsin, for example, have been experiencing an increase in wolf populations leading to an increase in livestock kills by wolves, particularly due to the fact that wolves are now expanding into areas with increased human development. This is leading to tension with local landowners.

The wolf once inhabited much of North America and now only persists in three percent of its former range following a huge increase in logging, land clearing and human settlement.23  During this time, it became extirpated in the state of Maine; however, the state still has large tract of quality habitat and reintroduction could be possible.3  With protection under the Endangered Species Act, the wolf has started to make a comeback despite some continued public persecution.23  Because wolves have extensive territorial behavior and metapopulation dynamics require hundreds of square kilometers to maintain viable populations, wolves are an extremely complex species to protect and manage. They are an excellent example of an umbrella and flagship species that highlights the need for a landscape scale conservation approach and the challenges of development.23 

Favorable Habitat

Favorable habitat for the wolf depends on many factors including road density, existence of different land types including public and industrial forests and persistence of prey populations.22  The wolf exhibits large-scale territorial behavior based on interacting subpopulations considered a pack; packs are a breeding unit that have the potential to become locally extint.23  Pack territory size in Minnesota during mid-winter is approximately 166 km2.23  Dispersing individuals that are colonizing a new area can range over many hundred kilometers. Interbreeding packs are important to maintain the overall population.23 

In a study conducted by Mladenoff et. al., wolf pack ranges are most prevalent in mixed forests and areas with more public lands and private industrial forests as compared to areas with more agricultural and deciduous lands with large bodies of water.23  Wolves are known to colonize areas with a road density of 0.7 km/km2  or less; however, core pack areas do not exist if the road density exceeds 0.23 km/km2.23 Although wolves avoid roads and areas with high traffic volume, they do use lower traffic volume roads for movement corridors, which are crucial to the dispersal of individuals.9   Road density, which serves as a measure of human contact and minimal human impact, is important for core pack areas where dens are located in order to protect breeding populations.23  This selection of core habitat areas is important for population success if the individuals are trying to utilize marginal habitat and no other breeding populations are within dispersal distance.23  Areas with fewer humans are favored in pack areas (1.52 humans/ km2) in comparison to non pack areas which had a density of humans to area at ranging from 5.16- 7.43 humans/ km2.23  

Mladenoff et al.’s findings support that wolves are selecting habitats most remote from human influence, which is defined in part by road density. This indicates habitats that are less fragmented by human development are most desired. Also abundance of prey populations is a strong indicator of quality habitat.23

If wolves must inhabit areas with higher human densities, public attitude and amount of legal protection in place are important indicators of how a population will survive.23  Generally, high quality habitat is extremely fragmented and human dominated, thus the future of wolf populations depends on human ability to protect a network of core habitat areas.9

 

Human-Wolf Conflict

As populations of carnivores expand under the protection of legislation or human encroachment upon habitat increase, more encounters with livestock occur.22  This leads to more human contact with wolves; human contact is the major source of wolf mortality due to accidental, legal or illegal killings.23  Because wolves prey on any ungulate in their home range, continued conflict with humans owning livestock can induce a higher wolf mortality rate and potentially cause local extinction in areas where they come into repeated contact with humans. A study conducted by Treves et. al. found that wolves attacked livestock in similar habitats across the states of Wisconsin and Minnesota.22  Those townships with higher deer density (a major prey species of wolves) as well as a higher percentage of pastureland mixed with dense vegetation experienced higher numbers of livestock kills.22  The deer density may have increased livestock predation because wolves may have been following the deer population.22  

In Minnesota, wolves are now colonizing areas previously believed to be too highly developed; however recolonization of these areas is possible with a change in public attitude and legal protection.22   Even so, areas without humans are needed for recovering and maintaining wolf populations since humans are the main cause of mortality and wolves are known to select habitats with less human influence.23  With this data, wildlife managers should define zones where the number of human-wolf conflicts would be greatest thus implementing strict control over these areas.22  To reduce conflict, wolves and humans should be kept separate whenever possible.

Efforts to Eliminate Conflict

Because human-carnivore conflict, specifically wolves killing livestock, can cause economic damage, people tend to respond by killing or poisoning the animals. This often kills non-targeted species and completely undermines the legislation in place. In order to maintain effective legislation as well as protect the interests of humans, wildlife managers must implement a strategy that limits carnivore contact with humans.22  The cost of conserving carnivores falls on a limited number of individuals, typically livestock owners in rural areas. The majority of people who do not come into contact with carnivores regularly, support conservation measures and enjoy the aesthetic benefits of such efforts.24  Compensation programs are the most widespread attempt to minimize costs although they are often inadequate and do not provide incentives for livestock owners to reduce the risk of predation by wolves.3  Also, these programs do not take into account attitude changes people affected by wolves may experience, which may lead to an increase in kills out of a negative attitude.3  In Naughton-Treves et. al.’s study, compensation programs do not lessen an individual’s animosity towards wolves had a pet or livestock animal been lost to predation.3  Thus compensation programs may not reduce illegal killings of wolves.

These compensation programs reimburse livestock owners with a variety of funding sources, from state and private sources and typically compensates for 100% of the market value of livestock lost to wolf predation.9  They are implemented in most US jurisdictions as well as in some areas of Canada.9  If a livestock animal survives a wolf attack, owners are fully reimbursed for veterinary charges.9  The cause of death of livestock must be obvious in order to receive payment. Some unique species of livestock, for example llama, may not be compensated by these programs.9

Another method to reduce human-wolf conflicts and increase wild herbivore populations in some parts of Minnesota and Canada is to cull wolf populations.9  This method does not have much public appeal. Because of this opposition, some culling programs have ended.9  In Canada, where wolf populations are stable, people are allowed to kill wolves without restrictions that are on or within eight kilometers of their property if the wolf I threatening their property.9  In some states, landowners are allowed to kill wolves that are physically in the act of killing livestock; often wolves are shot illegally.9  It is illegal to poison gray wolves within the US and the US Fish and Wildlife Service enforces these laws.9  The existence of humans within an area remains the most important factors in the survival rates of wolf populations. 9

Recently, the US Fish and Wildlife Service is looking to remove protection under the Federal Endangered Species Act for the wolf in some regions of the United States, because populations are recovering.25  By de-listing or lowering the wolf’s status before populations have reached recovery plan goals, these goals may be compromised with more management responsibilities dependent upon the state.25  

Reintroduction of Wolves in Maine: Is it possible?

Favorable Habitat

Because Maine once supported wolves, favorable habitat does exist for this species.3  Maine is included in the historic range of the gray wolf.25  They were completely eliminated as a result of hunting by the end of the 19th century and now, no known populations exist.25  A major obstacle to their potential reintroduction is the spread of humans and infrastructure throughout their historical range. If wolves were reintroduced into their initial range within Maine, potential for an increase human-wolf conflict exists.5      

Maine has necessary land types crucial to wolves’ survival, including agricultural and pastural lands, coniferous forests, open water, and wetlands.5  To determine the density of roads within throughout Maine, I used GIS analysis. I used road densities as a measure of human encroachment upon or human contact with habitat. Road densities were calculated for areas within LURC jurisdiction (northern Maine, Figure 2), non- LURC jurisdiction (southern Maine, Figure 2), the proposed Maine Woods National Park boundary (Figure 3), and the proposed Plum Creek development boundary (Figure 4). All road classes were used in one calculation and only classes 1-4 for another calculation (Table 3).

            Road densities are visibly higher in southern Maine indicating habitat fragmentation and a high presence of humans (Figure 2). If wolves were to be reintroduced within this region, human-wolf conflicts would be expected. The road densities in northern Maine are much less than those in the southern region (Figure 2). In this region, less habitat fragmentation exists and fewer human-wolf conflicts are likely.

 

Table 8. Road classes as defined by Maine Office of GIS

Road Class

Description

1

Interstate and highways

2

Primary, paved roads

3

Secondary roads

4

Improved roads

5

Unimproved roads

6

Trails

7

Footbridge

 

maine-roads_12-4

Figure 10. Roads in LURC and Non-LURC jurisdictions (Maine Office of GIS)

 

parkroads12-3

 

Figure 11. Roads in the proposed Maine Woods National Park (Maine Office of GIS)

plumcreekroads-12-3

Figure 12. Roads within the proposed Plum Creek Development area (Maine Office of GIS)

 

The road densities in LURC areas, non-LURC areas, and the proposed Maine Woods National Park area all exceed Mladenoff’s road density threshold for a viable wolf population of 0.7 km/km2 (not certain of which road classes were included in this study).26  The area where the Plum Creek Timber Company is proposing to develop has a road density of 0.66 km/km2; the only area where road density would allow for a viable wolf population when considering all road classes. None of these areas would support core habitats which are important to breeding populations for den sites.26

 

Figure 13. Road densities in specified areas

 

Other studies have found that wolf populations can survive with higher road densities than Mladonoff’s findings. Merrill conducted a study of a specific wolf population found at Camp Ripley located in northern Minnesota where road densities have been calculated at 1.42 km/km2 (including all paved roads, highways and other unimproved surfaced roads) or a density at 3.7 km/km2 including all road classes even smaller roads excluded in the previous calculation, which were included in my GIS analysis.27  This camp apparently has supported a “surviving population” with high road density as well as heavy vehicle traffic for over half of the year. Many of the wolves dispersing from this area are killed by vehicle collisions. Even so, litters have survived and individuals have dispersed.27  Perhaps this population is surviving because of the high wolf populations throughout Minnesota.25  With many populations, it is possible that the Camp Ripley pack has many source populations. Individuals dispersing from other populations could build up Camp Ripley’s population to account for vehicle mortalities. Camp Ripley may be an exception to Mladenoff’s study but it still provides an example where the wolf may be able to adapt to human presence.

Using Merrill’s road density criterion as a threshold for viable populations and the ability of an area to support a wolf population, the Plum Creek area would best support a population followed by the area proposed for a national park, LURC areas, and lastly, non-LURC areas.

Evaluating road densities, including only road classes 1-4 (Table 3), all areas would support wolf populations in comparison to Mladenoff’s and Merrill’s road densities (Figure 5). Also, LURC, the proposed park, and the proposed Plum Creek areas would all support core habitat for breeding wolf populations (0.23 km/km2 road density).

If a large reserve such as a national or state park were feasible, this could limit human access to habitat, decreasing traffic volume and hunting as well as over time, eliminating some industrial roads that would no longer be in use. A park would allow for the preservation of a large tract of land which would in turn allow for the conservation of many large carnivores, like wolves and other species.

The Plum Creek Proposal could further fragment the landscape in certain areas and require the construction of new infrastructure. Furthermore, the proposed conservation areas for the Plum Creek proposal do not necessarily offer a connected network of large tracts of land but rather scattered, potentially isolated patches. The potential for conflict between wildlife and humans would be high for people living within these new development areas.

 

Human-Wolf Conflict and Land Ownership

If the state conserves an adequate area of land specifically for wolves without any human contact, human-wolf conflicts could be reduced.5  If human influence is not restricted, conflicts could occur at a high rate, leading to wolf mortalities.5  A major obstacle to wolf reintroduction is the lack of public land and the prominence of privately owned land within the state. Only six percent of Maine’s land base is within public ownership (see Chapter by Randa Capponi). With the majority of land under the ownership of private timber companies, like Plum Creek, the potential habitat of wolves is subject to the decisions made by these companies.5  

 

  Recommendations for Conservation

Large protected areas in Maine would allow large carnivores to persist over time by maintaining their vast home ranges, supporting larger populations and reducing human-wildlife interactions which typically results in an increase in wildlife mortality through vehicle collisions, hunting, and trapping.1, 16  The existence of top predators is important in that they dictate lower level species composition by controlling prey populations.

With the threat of human-wildlife conflict, enforcing and maintaining legislation is crucial to ensure survival of viable populations as in the wolf example. The wolf populations experienced a rapid decline related to human impact. The federal and state governments must have consistent policies in order to sustain populations over the long-term.25  Inconsistencies will lead to species receiving less protection than they need to maintain populations and persist into the future.

In Maine, there is not a large enough protected area to maintain the habitat requirements of top predators like the wolf and other large mammals. However, optimal habitat does exist in the northern part of the state with a low human population and low road densities. Because these areas have fewer roads than the southern region of Maine, less fragmentation exists providing a more contiguous habitat. With a contiguous tract of land, individuals of a species can move freely within their home range possibly preventing local extinctions and genetic problems associated with isolated populations, a result of the patchwork pattern of habitat created by fragmentation.

Because of these circumstances and the optimal opportunity provided by the Maine North Woods to protect wildlife species, landscape conservation measures should be considered. The proposed Plum Creek development area offers some of the most suitable habitat for the reintroduction of wolves when considering road density yet it is under the threat of development. Conservation considerations for the future are necessary within this area before the opportunities are lost to development and the habitat degraded by fragmentation.

 

Literature Cited

 

1Mark A. Schwartz, "Choosing the Appropriate Scale of Reserves for Conservation", Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 30 (1999): 83-108.

2Raymond Rasker, Hackman, Arlin, "Economic Development and the Conservation of Large Carnivores", Conservation Biology 10 (1996): 991-1002.

3Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, "Comprehensive Wildlife Plan"  (2005).

4Caroline Eliot, Johnston, Will, Burns, Susan, Todd, Fredd, "Comprehensive Land Use Plan: For Areas Within the Jurisdiction of hte Maine Land Use Regulation Commission", in 1997), Chapter 1: 1-13.

5Brendan J. Carroll, "The Transboundary Implications of Wolf Reintroduction and Recovery in Maine", in, Environmental Studies Program (Waterville, 2005).

6R. Gerald Wright, Mattson, David J., "The Origin and Purpose of National Parks and Protected Areas", in R. G. Wright, ed., National Parks and Protected Areas: Their Role in Environmental Protection, 3-14.

7Robert B. Keiter, Keeping Faith with Nature (New Haven, 2003).

8Stephen R. Kellert, Black, Matthew, Rush, Colleen R., Bath, Alistair J., "Human Culture and Large Carnivore Conservation in North America", Conservation Biology 10 (1996): 977-990.

9Marco Musiani, Paquet, Paul C., "The Practices of Wolf Persecution, Protection and Restoration in Cananda and the United States", Bioscience 54 (2004): 50-60.

10Michael E. Kraft, Environmental Policy and Politics (Boston, MA, 2004).

11Robert B. Keiter, Locke, Harvey, "Law and Large Carnivore Conservation in the Rocky Mountains of the U. S. and Canada", Conservation Biology 10 (1996): 1003-1012.

12US Fish and Wildlife Service, "Threatened and Endangered Species System", in 2005).

13James and Thompson Salzman, Barton H.Jr., Environmental Law and Policy (New York, New York, 2003).

14Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, "Endangered Species Program"  (2005).

15Sandy Ritchie, "Maine's State Wildlife Grant Program", in 2005).

16Marcello Tabarelli, Gascon, Claude, "Lessons from Fragmentation Research: Improving Management and Policy Guidelines for Biodiversity Conservation", Conservation Biology 19 (2005): 734-739.

17Richard T. Forman, Sperling, Daniel, Bissonette, John A. et al., Road Ecology: Science and Solutions (Washington, 2003).

18Richard B. Primack, A Primer of Conservation Biology (Sunderland, 2000).

19Richard T.T. Forman, Deblinger, Robert D., "The Ecoloical Road Effect Zone of a Massachusetts (USA.) Highway", Conservation Biology 14 (2000): 36-46.

20Carlos Carroll, Noss, Reed F., Paquet, Paul C., Schumaker, Nathan H., "Extinction Debt of Protected Areas in Developing Landscapes", Conservation Biology 18 (2004): 1110-1120.

21Thomas P. Sullivan, Sullivan, Druscilla S., Lindgren, Pontus M. F., Ransome, Douglas B., "Long-term responses of ecosystem components to stand thinning in young lodgepole pine forest II. Diversity and population dynamics of forest floor small mammals", Forest Ecology and Management 205 (2004): 1-14.

22Adrian Treves, Naughton-Treves, Lisa, Harper, Elizabeth K., et al., "Predicting Human- Carnivore Conflict: a Spatial Model Derived from 25 Years of Data on Wolf Predation on Livestock", Conservation Biology 18 (2004): 114-125.

23David J. Mladenoff, Sickley, Theodore, Haught, Robert G., Wydeven, Adrian P., "A Regional Landscape Analysis and Prediction of Favorable Gray Wolf Habitat in the Northern Great Lakes Region", Conservation Biology 9 (1995): 279-294.

24Lisa Naughton- Treves, Grossberg, Rebecca, Treves, Adrian, "Paying for Tolerance: Rural Citizens' Attitudes toward Wolf Depredation and Compensation", Conservation Biology 17 (2003): 1500-1511.

25Defenders of Wildlife, "State of the Wolf 2004", in  (Washington D.C., 2004), 1-16.

26David J. Mladenoff, Sickley, Theodore, Wydeven, Adrian P., "Predicting Gray Wolf Landscape Recolonization: Logistic Regression Models vs. New Field Data", Ecological Applications 9 (1999): 37-44.

27Samuel B. Merrill, "Road Densities and Gray Wolf, Canis lupus, Habitat Sustainability: an Exception", Canadian Field Naturalist 114 (2000): 312-313.

 

 

 

State of Maine's Environment, Colby College, Environmental Studies Program
Content by Students in ES493: Environmental Policy Practicum
Philip Nyhus, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies
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