Biologist earned his retirement pub tour

One of the gripes you hear in this line of work goes something like this: “Newspapers (or TV stations, or bloggers) spend too much time covering bad news. We want good news.”

The people who say such things truly believe that’s what they want. I’m convinced of that. But the fact remains, “Dog doesn’t bite man” doesn’t really work as a headline that will entice readers into a story. Crime stories are well-read. News is sometimes ugly. And our best-read stories are often controversial, and wouldn’t qualify as “good news” in any circumstances.

In today’s BDN, I got the chance to tell a good news story that I’d been sitting on for a couple of weeks, waiting for the right time, the right place (and, to be completely candid, waiting for a few hours that I could fully devote to the piece).

I finally figured that a few days before Christmas, readers might want to hear about a good Maine guy like Peter Bourque.

He didn’t save anyone’s dog from a burning building. He didn’t invent a medical device that will save millions.

He just went to work for you, the people of Maine, for more than 46 years.

That, I thought, was worth recognizing. And celebrating.

Peter Bourque relaxes at camp.

Until October, Bourque was a fisheries biologist working for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Since 1983, he’d been an administrator — fisheries chief, for most of those years — working out of Augusta.

Since I began writing about Maine’s outdoor scene several years ago, I’ve had plenty of occasion to chat with Peter Bourque. I’ve had equal opportunity to talk to others about the even-keeled biologist.

I also learned that some folks outside the DIF&W thought they could do his job far better. The more time I spent on this beat, and the more people I talked to, the more I learned that didn’t make Bourque special: There are plenty of armchair administrators and would-be fisheries experts out there who don’t have much use for pesky stuff like book learning … and science.

When Bourque retired in October, his former colleagues in the fisheries biz decided that they’d see him off in style. At some point (likely over a pint of beer, seeing as how the plan worked out), they decided that “Pete’s Pub Tour” would be a perfect way to show their appreciation.

So for several weeks, Peter Bourque has been revisiting some of his old friends, meeting up for dinner, a pint or two, and an evening of telling stories about Maine’s woods, its waters, and the adventures they’d all shared.

I stopped in for the pre-meal festivities at the Sea Dog Brewing Company in Bangor — the third such tour stop, after Augusta and Waterville — and chatted with several biologists, many of whom had learned much about their craft from Bourque. Other friends also attended.

Peter Bourque and his wife, Mary.

Dave Basley came down from Ashland. Rick Jordan came in from Washington County. Nels Kramer made the trip from Enfield. DIF&W advisory council member Lance Wheaton, a longtime guide, made the trip from the East Grand Lake metropolis of Forest City.

They would have held a more formal retirement party, Kramer told me when he invited me to stop by, but he wasn’t sure they could secure a big enough hall.

“We figured we’d probably have to have the Augusta Civic Center to accommodate everyone,” he said.

Bourque told me plenty of stories that night. Some of them even made it into the feature. Others, due to space constraints, unfortunately didn’t make it into the piece.

He told me, for instance, about his first flight in a DIF&W airplane, after the department had been asked to help evaluate a situation in Maine’s north woods.

“We flew into Passamagamet Lake, which is on the West Branch of the Penobscot, because Great Northern Paper Company had a logging camp there and they had a major log jam in the river,” Bourque said. “They called fisheries biologists to come in, look this over, and figure out whether they were going to be able to dynamite that jam to break it up.”

We never talked about what the ultimate decision was, though. That wasn’t the important part of the story, as far as Bourque was concerned. This was: He’d taken his first flight. He’d received valuable exposure to a large logging operation, and was better able to understand that industry.

And he got to eat in a lumber camp for the first time.

To a young biologist who’d heard legendary tales about the lumberjacks who earned their pay in Maine’s big woods, that was surely pretty heady stuff.

Although there was plenty of laughter at the Bangor stop of Pete’s Pub Tour, Jordan, a longtime biologist who worked out the Jonesboro office before retiring in 2010, admitted to feeling more than a bit sad.

“I view this retirement part as a retirement party, but it almost has a few overtones of a funeral,” Jordan said. “When somebody that’s been that good, that’s had that long of a career and did things right, when they leave it leaves a hole that is really impossible to fill.”


John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.