Maine is known for its diverse array of plants and animals. In fact, several species native Maine cannot be found anywhere else in the United States. Others, such as the moose, are rarely spotted outside the very northern reaches of the country. The state of Maine established a series of wildlife refuges to maintain this diversity of flora and fauna. These protected areas preserve the local habitat, ensuring that Maine’s animal populations will continue to thrive. Wildlife refuges are open to the public. Many have hiking trails and other recreational opportunities. If you see wildlife when visiting a refuge, never approach or feed the animal for your own safety and the animal’s well-being.
Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge
Located in Milford, the Sunkhaze Meadows National Wildlife Refuge protects a unique wetland, stream, and forest habitat. The refuge contains the second-largest peatland in Maine, with unique plant and animal species. It is also a protected habitat for three plants species, two mollusks, three invertebrates, and seven birds that are considered endangered or threatened. Visitors enjoy hiking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, birdwatching, cross-country skiing, and canoeing in this excellent wildlife refuge.
Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge
Located near Charlotte in eastern Maine, the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge is one of the northernmost protected areas in the Atlantic Flyway migratory route. It is an essential feeding ground and nesting habitat for shorebirds, game birds, songbirds, birds of prey, and wading birds. The refuge has a special program to study the American woodcock, which is suffering from habitat loss. The wildlife refuge offers northern hardwood forest, white pine, rocky shoreline, streams, lakes, marshes, and rolling hills. Hikers are welcome to explore the refuge’s 50 miles of trails and look for wildlife.
Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge
In 1998, the U.S. Air Force transferred 4,700 acres of the former Loring Air Force Base to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The result was the establishment of the Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge, a spectacular wildlife habitat near Limestone. The primary habitats in this refuge are forest, grasslands, and wetlands, which are being restored as the Air Force base infrastructure is dismantled. This refuge is an important place for the American woodcock, American black duck, grassland birds, frogs, toads, dragonflies, and damselflies. To get to the wildlife refuge, take Route 89 west from Caribou and turn left on Loring Commerce Road. Call 207-454-7161 for more information.
Carlton Pond Waterfowl Production Area
In 1966, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acquired Carlton Pond, a man-made pond created when the Carlton Brook was dammed. The resulting Carlton Pond Waterfowl Production Area is one of the last nesting habitats for black terns, an endangered species of bird. The area also protects the habitats of frogs, salamanders, toads, marsh birds, and the American woodcock. The endangered Slender Blue Flag plant species was also spotted in the area. To access the property, turn east onto Route 220 in Troy until you reach Bog Road. Call 207-594-0600 for more information.
Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge
The Maine Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge totals over 8,100 acres of land. With more than 50 offshore island and four pieces of land on the coast, this massive wildlife refuge protects Maine’s delicate marine ecosystems. The Maine Coastal Islands system actually consists of five separate national wildlife refuges that have been merged into one unit — Petit Manan, Cross Island, Franklin Island, Seal Island, and Pond Island. Together, these refuges comprise over 250 miles of shoreline. The seabird nesting islands are open during the daytime between September 1 and March 31, but are closed during summer nesting season. Call 207-546-2124 for more information about the wildlife refuges that make up the Maine Coast Islands National Wildlife Refuge system.
Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge
Part of the town of Steuben, the Petit Manan National Wildlife Refuge is 6,367 acres in size. It includes Petit Manan point on the mainland, Petit Manan Island, Bois Bubert Island, and Nash Island. Protected habitats include red and white spruce forests, heath peatlands, blueberry barrens, freshwater marshes, saltwater marshes, cedar swamps, and rocky coastline. Look for nesting seabirds, eider ducks, and gulls when exploring these islands. Boat tours take you to these islands, but they are also exciting to explore by sea kayak. Petit Manan Island has an active lighthouse that is on the National Register of Historic Places; it is not open to the public but makes a lovely photograph opportunity.
Cross Island National Wildlife Refuge
Cross Island National Wildlife Refuge, located off the coast of Cutler, comprises over 1,700 acres of land. Established in 1980, the refuge includes Cross Island, Scotch Island, Outer Double Head Shot, Inner Double Head Shot, Mink Island, and Old Man Island. These islands are characterized by their red and white spruce, birch, balsam fir, and red maple trees. They are home to white-tailed deer, furbearers, bald eagles, osprey, common eiders, black guillemots, and double-crested cormorants. Bird watchers will love the opportunity to see razorbills on Old Man Island, one of only four nesting sites in the Gulf of Maine.
Franklin Island National Wildlife Refuge
Two islands make up the Franklin Island National Wildlife Refuge: 12-acre Franklin Island and 8-acre Two Bush Island. These islands are covered with stands of spruce trees and raspberry thickets. They are accessible via boat tours and can be reached by experienced sea kayakers. Look for osprey and black-crowned night herons, which live on the islands.
Seal Island National Wildlife Refuge
Seal Island is 21 miles south of Rockland. Although technically in the Midcoast region of Maine, it is part of the larger Maine Coast Islands National Wildlife Refuge. It is a rocky, treeless island that is perfect for nesting puffins, black guillemots, razorbills, endangered roseate terns, and eiders. The island is also home to harbor and gray seals, which enjoy fishing offshore. Unexploded weapons can be found on Seal Island, making it unsafe for visitors.
Pond Island National Wildlife Refuge
Pond Island is 10 acres in size. Located at the mouth of the Kennebec River, the island is accessible by private watercraft. Its white stone lighthouse was the first river light in Maine. The refuge is the site of a special tern restoration program, which has led to a population of 135 pairs of nesting terns. Common eiders, osprey, and eagles are other commonly seen birds.
Swan Island Wildlife Management Area
Wildlife Management Areas are designed to protect and enhance wildlife resources in Maine. They are also open to the public for a variety of recreational opportunities. The Swan Island Wildlife Management Area comprises 1,755 acres in the Kennebec River. Swan Island, Little Swan Island, and tidal flats are included in this protected area. This is a great place for visitors to spot wild turkey, nesting bald eagles, and white-tailed deer. The area is accessible by canoe, kayak, and special ferries that leave from Richmond several times per day. Call 207-737-4307 for more information.
Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1966, the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge is located in Wells. It consists of 7,600 acres of land and 50 miles of coastline. The refuge is especially interested in improving nesting conditions for the endangered species of piping plovers. It is also attempting to clear the area of non-native plant species. Visitors will enjoy walking through the marked trails and exploring the beach area to look for shells and sea glass. Call 207-646-9226 for more information.