Tales from Misery Ridge: What Really Happened to the Baxter Park Caibou?
By V. Paul Reynolds

You think that you know somebody, especially when you work with him in an office for a number of years. Until they write a book. Back in the early 1990s Paul Fournier, the man from Misery Ridge, was the media coordinator for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at the same time that Commissioner Bucky Owen picked me to be his Information and Education Officer. An easy-going, good-humored man, I liked Fournier from the moment we met. Professionally, he was a savvy, experienced woodsman and media guy. He also knew the lay of the land when it came to Augusta, IF&W politics and dealing with TV and newspaper reporters. Taking over a new and unfamliar post, I knew enough to work with Fournier. Like my U.S Navy days, I was the green Ensign and Fournier was the Senior Chief Petty Officer. I relied on him and he was a delight to work with.

A year or so later, Fournier retired. That was almost 20 years ago and, although he did write an article or two for my publication, the Northwoods Sporting Journal, we had little contact - until he sent me his new book last month, Tales from Misery Ridge, published by Islandport Press.

Fournier's first book is a recounting of a lifetime of adventures in the great outdoors. A Maine Guide, a sporting camp operator, a bush pilot, and a press person and videographer for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Fournier accumulated a stack of good stories, stories that are all in this book. It's a wonderfully rich book, honestly and beautifully written.

As noted in the introduction, Misery Ridge is a high piece of land in Misery Township west of Moosehead Lake. It is visible form Fournier's former sporting camps on Brassua Lake. Fournier and his late wife Anita bought the camps after his discharge from the Air Force. It is where his book and his long affair with the Maine outdoors really began.

Although Fournier holds my attention throughout his book, most fascinating for me were the chapters on Bush Flying and Return of the Caribou.

Fournier flirted with Maine bush flying on a commercial basis and did "run the scud" with the best of them. But, in the end, common sense and his survival instincts prevailed. He decided to leave the world of commercial bush flying. Writes Fournier: " It had been fun, exciting and sometimes frightening, but I knew deep down I was a fair-weather pilot. What top-notch bush pilots shrug off as just a day's work was too stressful for most ordinary mortals, me included."

Maine's ill-fated experiment with introducing caribou to Maine in 1986 has stirred, over the years, the curiosity of most Maine outdoorsmen. Questions have lingered. What went wrong? What happened to the caribou released in Baxter? Did poachers get them? Coyotes? Did they die of natural causes or migrate northward back to Canada?

Before Fournier's book, some articles had been written about Maine's caribou experiment but, to the best of my knowledge, not in the detail or honesty that Fournier brings to the subject. As IF&W's official videographer, it was Fournier's job to chronicle the caribou experiment on film. So he had a ringside seat and was intimately involved from beginning to end. Unlike some other accounts of the caribou "project", Fournier sugar coats nothing. The project was plagued with nasty weather, bureaucratic screwups and scientific oversights. Fournier doesn't hesitate to enumerate all of them.

Fournier's conclusion is that the Baxter-placed caribou died from a brain worm infestation caught from a proximity to whitetail deer. "Because P. tenuis (brainworm) is carried by deer, the site selected for keeping the caribou at Orono, in hindsight, was possibly the worst possible choice. It has an extremely high deer population."

Coincidentally, Tales from Misery Ridge is the same publisher that produced Where Cool Waters Flow, a wonderful history of Downeast guides by Randy Spencer. In every respect, Fournier's book merits a top spot alongside Spencer's.

Tales of Misery Ridge has what I consider two vital components of a worthwhile Maine outdoor book: a spellbinding story to tell and a skilled writer to tell it.

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program "Maine Outdoors" heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is paul@sportingjournal.com and his new book is "A Maine Deer Hunter's Logbook."


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