Ken Elowe ’78
Director of Resource Management,
Maine Department of Inland
Fisheries & Wildlife
This profile originally appeared in Bowdoin magazine, Vol. 74, No. 1, Fall 2002
The first time Ken Elowe '78 crawled inside a bear's den, he admits being a bit unnerved. "Even after you've done it a bunch of times, you never really know what you're going to see when you stick your head around that corner," he laughs. Elowe, a wildlife biologist, spent eight years during graduate school studying all aspects of black bear life, which often included popping in for visits while they were at home. After earning his Ph.D. in wildlife biology, Ken worked for the Utah Division of Wildlife on bear and mountain lion research. Picture the hirsute scientist in wool pants and suspenders, flannel shirt to the wind, galloping with a dart gun and collar on horseback through the Utah mountains. "It was quite an adventure," he says matter-of-factly of that time, like one might declare, "I had flapjacks for breakfast."
After two years in Utah, Elowe tracked his way back to Maine to conduct bear and other forest mammal research for the Office of Fish & Wildlife in Bangor. If talking about treeing mountain lions doesn't rouse Ken, get him talking about the State of Maine and he breaks into a moosesized smile with a voice full of admiration for his adopted home. Not to mention the fact that his parents have lived in Brunswick for years (his father, Edmond Elowe '52, died this past spring), and his sister Arlene Elowe Macleod '77 is just down the road teaching political science at Bates.
Yet, back in Maine Ken soon found himself in a struggle, though not of the physical sort one might expect from a man who works with wild animals. Ken's was a philosophical dilemma, settled, fittingly, by a bear. "I had a black bear come and sit next to me in the woods," he explains, "sit right next to me-didn't even know I was there. I could have reached out my arm and touched him he was so close. It was one of those experiences that seemed like hours-it was probably only 10 minutes-when you realize what you do, what you could do, is bigger than you are."
His difficult choice was one of field or office. "I decided that the best way to help wildlife would be to work from the other end, on the policies that so greatly affect the animals I'd been studying." In 1995, Ken took the position of director of wildlife for the State of Maine, which in turn led him to his current position as the director of resource management for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. Ken's department is responsible for the oversight of all fish and all wildlife in the State of Maine, to conserve everything "from dragonflies to moose," he says. "It's applied ecology. One hundred years from now, we should still have these same resources, these same species. I work with a lot of different people to make this happen." In fact, Elowe works more closely with people now than with animals he's charged to protect.
Ken must negotiate with private landowners, as well as most of the industrial forest owners, corporations, and government to see that their land management plans accommodate wildlife. "My role is to bring together these different elements and maintain the common vision while doing it. This is the biggest challenge." Currently, he is working with 70 towns in Maine, Brunswick among those, on landscape planning initiatives. He and his department assess wildlife needs, create appropriate models, and help to fit town needs into those models. "It's a very long-term project that involves changing people's thinking about private ownership versus common good. We try to help people see the benefit of something that doesn't look like a benefit to them now."
But, doesn't he miss working with the animals? "I couldn't do what I do now if I hadn't had all those years in the field," he answers. "I think about it all the time and that gives me focus, reminds me why I'm doing what I'm doing. My job now is bringing people together for conservation. Working with wildlife is working with people. What humans do impacts wildlife so, to work with wildlife, you also have to love to work with people."