In Maine, a return of tribal land shows how conservation can succeed
By Bina Venkataraman
November 1, 2023
PENOBSCOT COUNTY, Maine — On a recent morning at the Penobscot Nation headquarters, moose mating rituals dominated the office banter: the wacky way a lovesick moose had stumbled around someone’s pickup truck, the grunts a bull moose made when he heard a hunter’s low moan — an imitation of a female mating call. “I don’t care anymore how ridiculous I sound to people,” said Chuck Loring, who heads the tribe’s department of natural resources. “What matters is how I sound to a moose.” He had just shot a bull with a 40-inch antler span. Outside, a stretched-out hide — the future head of a ceremonial drum — was drying in the sun.
The Penobscot Nation’s record of caring for nature while still using it — hunting moose and duck while keeping their populations steady, selectively harvesting timber to preserve forests and restoring rivers to support fisheries — inspired an effort to return a 31,000-acre tract of forested land to tribal ownership. Late last year, the Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, bought the parcel from an industrial timber company, and today it announced it will give the land to the tribe once it pays off $32 million in loans. Called Wáhsehtəkʷ by the Penobscot, which means east branch of the river (and is pronounced WAH-seh-teg), it’s the largest contiguous tract that the tribe will have acquired in more than four decades.