A plea for one more, lest we forget

A recent editorial in this newspaper commended the Indian government for taking steps to save the great bustard, which has brought me thus posthaste to my desk, and I'm up to here already and haven't sat down yet. I comment as follows: Everybody wants to save something. South Dakota is to have a referendum to save the mourning dove. With some people, it's the whales, or the wolves. What can we do for the loon? Will the Newfies ever stop killing the seals? So where were all these helpful people during the past two years while my beloved State o' Maine fomented an open hunting season on the moose? Where were the editorials about thanm ?

It's not a pretty story. The moose is an archaic holdover from a previous age and will go his way in time, as did the fossil reptilia and the mastodon. But here in Maine, back when I was a boy, hunting almost put our moose away before his time. Game wardens made estimates, and some estimated as few as 70 pairs in the whole state -- not much of a population in all the wilderness of Maine. It's a fact that while we were depleting our herd, we established another one in Newfoundland. A pair of Maine moose were taken up there and told to recycle. That pair disappeared into the brush, and nobody knows more than that about them. Later, more Maine moose were sent up, and every moose in Newfoundland today is descended from the Maine supply.

When our fish and game-commissioner finally woke up, a strict, permanent closed season was enacted on moose, and we all understood that Maine moose would be safe in perpetuity from the hunter's gun. But when the moose reestablished himself and again became numerous, there were those who proposed an open season again. A bill to have an open season was introduced at each session of the legislature and would be reported out "ought not to pass." But in the 1978 session a favorable vote developed, and for 1980 we were to have a week's open season on the majestic creatures.

Let me tell you something. Up in Newfoundland, where moose are plentiful and may be shot by hunters, the animals live timid. They don't hang around if they suspect anything. If you shoot a moose in Newfoundland, you've probably worked. But after so many years of protection, our Maine moose didn't know what fear might be. When Bill Dornbusch and I go up to Township 14-6 for our mid-July meditation and trout hunt, there is a bull moose that comes every morning and looks in the window of our camp to watch us wash the breakfast dishes. We went up a river one day and lost count of the moose we saw -- two were dams with young, and one had twins. None of them paid us the slightest heed. We could have flicked a trout fly on any of them.

The protection our Maine moose had was complete. Back in the '60s the Museum of Science in Boston wanted to make a diorama of a moose with Mr. Katahdin as background. The museum director asked the Maine commissioner of Inland Fisheries and Game if his wardens would find a suitable moose and make him ready for the taxidermist. Our commissioner meekly answered that even he could not lawfully touch a Maine moose. (The "Maine" moose that finally got into the diorama was supplied by Ontario.)

So these creatures were thrown on the mercy of the "sportsmen," a fine recreational opportunity equal to shooting your own grandmother while she sat on the front porch rocker knitting a mitten. Sure, there were plenty of us who made great howl.

The cold-blooded murder of some 700 moose, I think hasn't really bothered me as much as the snide way the "sport" was set up. Maine, like so many other states, has tried the lottery and found it wanting. But the idea beguiles, and this moose season was carried out in a lottery manner. Hunters bought tickets, which were sportingly called licenses, and all the names went into the hat. Your name had to be drawn, with a moose as prize. All those not drawn spent their money for nothing. Who wants to be a moose up for grabs? My guess is that every moose taken in this great sporting event was standing head-on, gazing unperturbed at his Nimrod in myopic curiosity.

So there. Fight the good fight for the bustard and the loon and the wolf and the whale and the seal. Where was everybody when the moose needed a friend? Do you suppose old Dewlap will be there next July to watch Bill and me do dishes?

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