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Changing Views on Wildlife: the Down East Game War Explored

April 17, 2014

The Downeast Lakes Land Trust was pleased to host Ian Jesse, a University of Maine Canadian-American Center Fellow and PhD candidate, on April 11th to discuss his research concerning Edward “Sandy” Ives’ and his book George Magoon and the Down East Game War.  Mr. Jesse shared stories about George Magoon, and discussed what they tell us about both a popular local folk hero and the larger social context which formed the backdrop of the game war.

Many people today may not be aware that wildlife was once harvested commercially for sale as meat.  As Sandy Ives put it, “Maine transitioned from harvesting its wildlife, to harvesting sportsmen.” This change had a strong impact on the livelihoods of struggling local farmers who supplemented their incomes with the sale of meat to the hungry cities in the south. It was generally acknowledged that market hunting was not sustainable, and that the game war was lost when new legislation came into effect. However, settlers that came to the Downeast region were rankled by the idea that wealthy folks ‘from away’ should dictate terms under which food could be in their pantries.  Thus, a certain arm’s length delight sprang up at the telling of the exploits of poachers such as George Magoon, who flouted the law with backwoods Maine cleverness, physical toughness, wood craft, and sheer audacity.

The Down East Game War provides a local entry point to a wider understanding of the social history of wildlife management in America. Wardens, guides, transplants from the south, and poacher’s sons and daughters were keen to discuss how the strains between private traditional use of the Maine woods and public natural resource management continues to be at the heart of hot button issues, from bear hunting to the Maine Woods National Park proposal.

The Downeast Lakes Land Trust regularly hosts speakers, sponsors workshops, and leads outdoor adventures that highlight the natural and cultural history of the Maine woods and waters.  These programs support the DLLT’s commitment to protecting both the environmental and economic health of the Downeast Lakes region. Visit their website to discover what is happening next.