Animals on the brink

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This new poster from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife shows every threatened and endangered species in Maine on one side and gives information about each one on the other side. The poster was painted by Mark McCollough, who was a wildlife biologist for IFW and is now a wildlife biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

51 species are at risk of dying out in Maine. You can do something about it.

The vanishing act being done by bats here in the Pine Tree State has been sudden and scary (see the A1 story), but bats aren’t the only critters disappearing in Maine.

More than 50 animals are on the state’s latest endangered species and threatened species list.

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Some, like the button-eyed, twitchy-nosed New England cottontail rabbit, are pretty well known. Others you’ve probably never heard of, like the six-whorl vertigo, a teeny-tiny snail that’s found in just one spot in Aroostook County.

Maine started an endangered and threatened species list in 1975. At the time, it simply mirrored the federal list. In 1981, the state started branching off from the federal list, adding the least tern — a seabird — to its state-specific list. Today, most of Maine’s list is its own, periodically updated by legislative vote after public input and professional review.

“It’s not a casual thing,” said Charlie Todd, endangered and threatened species coordinator for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

The list was last updated in 2015. IFW recently released an educational poster showcasing all the animals on the list.

If an animal earns the title “threatened” in Maine, that means it isn’t doing well in the state and could become endangered without some special attention. Listed “endangered species” are very close to extinction in Maine.

“Sort of like the most severe patients entering an emergency room into the intensive care unit,” Todd said.

It’s a small number compared to the thousands of animal species in Maine, but they’re important to the state’s eco system.

“They’re a really, really special and important group,” said Philip deMaynadier, a wildlife biologist with IFW. “Without dedicated attention, really triage in terms of our department, in terms of our staff time. . . this is the cast of characters we really need to pay attention to if we’re not going to risk losing them permanently from our natural heritage.”

The list offers some regulatory protections for animals at risk of being decimated by hunters, poisons or land development. It also serves an educational tool, a way to get a little extra attention for a critter that needs it.

“A lot of these species that we consult on, they’re species that people never knew about. They’re so inconspicuous. They’re not the bald eagles or the peregrine falcons of the world. They’re the boreal snaketail (dragonfly) or the Roaring Brook mayfly or the northern bog lemming,” deMaynadier said.

Sometimes it works and the critter gets off the state list. (Hello, bald eagle!)

Sometimes they need to linger for a while. (We’re looking at you, least tern.)

Of the 51 listed species in Maine, about 20 of them can be found in Androscoggin, Oxford or Franklin counties. Here are four examples.

PEREGRINE FALCON

What: The peregrine is a bird of prey known for its high-speed hunting dive — think 120 mph or faster — and its love of nesting on cliffs and high-rise city buildings. Peregrines are about the size of crows. They mate for life.

Where: The birds are found around the world. In Maine, they have a particular fondness for Acadia National Park, White Mountain National Forest and, as it so happens, the spire at the Franco American Heritage Center in Lewiston. (State wildlife officials once tried to entice Lewiston’s nesting pair to move across the street, where they could have better access to the birds. The falcons wanted none of it. “They like their steeple,” Todd said. “We’ll defer to the birds on this one.”)

Why the decline: The pesticide DDT had a lot to do with it.

How are they doing: Better! By the early 1960s, peregrines had vanished from Maine and everywhere else in the eastern United States, and they weren’t doing so hot in the rest of the world. (The last breeding pair in the eastern U.S. was found at Acadia National Park.) The birds were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1970 and automatically added to Maine’s list when it was created in 1975. To help boost peregrine numbers, Maine partnered with other states, provinces and nations in a captive breeding program that released captive-born youngsters into the wild. Locally, birds were re-introduced into Mount Blue State Park in Franklin County and Woodstock in Oxford County.

How many are left: There are about 30 nesting pairs in Maine, an estimated 40 percent of whom live in the greater White Mountain National Forest area in southern Oxford County. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s up from zero.

Why you should care: Peregrines have been admired for centuries. More than that, Todd said, “When you have a healthy raptor population, the animals that are living at the top of the food chain, it tells you something about the quality of the food web underneath it.”

What you can do: Avoid rock climbing on cliffs with known nesting pairs. (That protects both them and you. The birds don’t like humans crawling up the side of their cliff and they may try to protect their young.) Report peregrine sightings to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, especially if you see a city pair that IFW might not know about.

GOLDEN EAGLE

What: The golden eagle is one of the largest birds of prey in North America. They look like young bald eagles, especially from a distance, and people sometimes confuse them.

Where: Historically they nest in remote mountains. Around here, that meant northern Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties.

Why the decline: The birds have been disappearing from the eastern U.S. for over a century, mostly because humans have changed the way they use the land. Golden eagles hunt over cleared land, not water like bald eagles. Without clear cutting, wide swaths of agriculture and wild fires that bare forests, “golden eagles are hard-pressed to find a meal in Maine,” Todd said.

How are they doing: Not well. Golden eagles have been on Maine’s endangered species list since 1987, and Todd doesn’t see them ever being abundant on their own unless the “landscape turns inside out.” “But we’d like to take care of the few places where they have nested and see if we can’t get a few back,” he said.

How many are left: None in Maine, as far as anyone knows, unless they’re just passing through.

Why you should care: Golden eagles aren’t a national symbol like the bald eagle, but they are just as majestic. “Everybody that has grown accustomed to seeing bald eagles these days, if they saw a golden they would be deeply moved. It’s an inspiring bird,” Todd said.

What you can do: Report golden eagle sightings to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, especially in the spring or early summer. If the birds are seen around here then, that could mean they’re living and breeding in the area — something IFW hopes for.

ROARING BROOK MAYFLY

What: The Roaring Brook mayfly is a tiny (less than a half-inch long) water-loving insect that looks a little like a mini dragonfly. It’s named for the place it was discovered: Roaring Brook at the base of Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park.

Where: With a fondness for high elevations and fast streams, the Roaring Brook mayfly is known to exist in just 17 places in the world — one spot in New Hampshire, one in Vermont and 15 in Maine. Here there are clusters in Oxford, Franklin and Somerset counties.

Why the decline: They’re choosy about where they live.

“They seem to be very, very tied to specific high-elevation streams with, frankly, characteristics that we don’t pretend to completely understand yet. There’s obviously a lot of high-elevation streams and they’re not in all of them,” deMaynadier said. “If we were to lose even a few of those sites, we would be concerned we could lose the viability of the overall statewide population.”

That means IFW is keeping an eye on forestry practices, pollution and energy development projects, like wind power, that could threaten their few habitats.

How are they doing: They aren’t exactly booming, but they aren’t disappearing, either. The mayflies were listed as an endangered species in Maine in 1997, then upgraded to threatened in this latest list after biologists found them in more locations.

How many are left: No one knows, since the little bugs are hard to count.

Why you should care: The Roaring Brook mayfly is at the bottom of the food chain, which makes it important for birds, bats and other animals to thrive. People who fly fish know a good brook trout stream is a good mayfly stream.

What you can do: Pay attention to stream and water quality. It may not impact the Roaring Brook mayfly — unless your stream happens to be one of their favorites — but it could pay off for the other 148 mayfly species in Maine not on the list. “So they don’t ever get to this level,” deMaynadier said.

BLACK RACER SNAKE

What: At 5 to 6 feet long, the black racer is the largest snake in Maine, though not venomous. It eats small mammals, frogs, insects — and other snakes.

“It’s not one that will go unnoticed if it’s underfoot,” deMaynadier said. “It’s the king of the snakes in Maine.”

Where: It’s stronghold is in York County, but it’s been confirmed as far north as southern Oxford County.

Why the decline: Black racers like open, dry land with sandy soil — which also happens to be where people like to build. That development has driven an already rare species closer to extinction in Maine, both because they lose their habitat and because they become roadkill. It doesn’t help that some people kill them on sight.

“For better or for worse, people tend to be scared of big snakes,” deMaynadier said. “I would argue it’s for the worse. There’s no reason to be scared of the black racer. They’re non-venomous. They would like nothing more than to get out of your way.”

How are they doing: They’re the only snake on the state’s list and they’re listed as endangered, the more serious designation. Think there’s no way a snake could go extinct in Maine? Think again. The state was home to timber rattlesnakes until the 1800s. “They were heavily persecuted,” deMaynadier said.

How many are left: It’s unclear. IFW is planning to investigate that this spring.

Why you should care: Black racers help control mice, voles and other rodents.

What you can do: Don’t kill them. Or any snakes.

“Don’t kill any of those guys. We don’t want any more state-listed snakes, number one. Number two, they’re all playing a really important role ecologically. They’re essentially our free form of biological pest control. Pesticide free, chemical free, yard pest control,” deMaynadier said. “They can’t help it that they don’t have legs.”

ltice@sunjournal.com

2016 Endangered Wildlife Poster by sunjournal on Scribd

Maine’s endangered species

Birds

American Pipit

Black-crowned night heron

Black tern

Golden eagle

Grasshopper sparrow

Least bittern

Least tern

Peregrine falcon

Piping plover **

Roseate tern *

Sedge wren

Fish

Redfin pickerel

Beetles

Cobblestone tiger beetle

Butterflies and skippers

Edwards’ hairstreak

Frigga fritillary

Hessel’s hairstreak

Juniper hairstreak

Katahdin arctic

Dragonflies and damselflies

Rapids clubtail

Snails

Six-whorl vertigo

Mammals

Little brown bat

New England cottontail rabbit

Northern long-eared bat **

Snakes

Black racer

Turtles

Blanding’s turtle

Box turtle

Maine’s threatened species

Birds

Arctic tern

Atlantic puffin

Barrow’s goldeneye

Common gallinule

Great cormorant

Harlequin duck

Razorbill

Short-eared owl

Upland sandpiper

Fish

Swamp darter

Butterflies and skippers

Clayton’s copper

Purple lesser fritillary

Sleepy duskywing

Dragonflies and damselflies

Boreal snaketail

Ringed boghaunter

Freshwater mussels

Brook floater

Tidewater mucket

Yellow lampmussel

Mayflies

Roaring Brook mayfly

Tomah mayfly

Moths

Pine barrens zanclognatha

Twilight moth

Mammals

Eastern small-footed bat

Northern bog lemming

Reptiles

Spotted turtle

* Also federally listed as endangered

** Also federally listed as threatened

Endangered: the black racer, Maine’s largest snake.

Endangered: adult Roaring Brook mayfly, which likes Maine’s high mountain streams.

Endangered: the golden eagle. This New Hampshire specimen is currently in rehabilitation at Avian Haven in Freedom, Maine.

Endangered: the peregrine falcon. This one is soaring over the Roy Continental Mill in Lewiston after taking off from his perch on the steeple of the Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston on April 14.

“Don’t kill any of those guys (Maine snakes). We don’t want any more state-listed (endangered) snakes, number one. Number two, they’re all playing a really important role ecologically. They’re essentially our free form of biological pest control. Pesticide free, chemical free, yard pest control. They can’t help it that they don’t have legs.”

— Philip deMaynadier, wildlife biologist 

A peregrine falcon takes flight from it’s perch on the steeple at the Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston in this Sun Journal file photo. A pair have been nesting in various parts of the steeple and in surrounding mill buildings for several years.

A peregrine falcon dives off the steeple of the Dolard and Priscilla Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston on Friday afternoon April 14.

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