Roger AuClair should never be forgotten. I especially appreciated his relentless advocacy for our native brook trout. Along with fisheries biologist Forrest Bonney, Roger helped me to understand how important Maine’s native and wild brook trout are, and inspired me to work to protect and enhance them.
With leadership from the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, especially SAM’s Fisheries Initiative Committee, we were able to convince the legislature to designate brook trout as our state’s Heritage Fish and to protect them in waters that have never been stocked.
But Roger AuClair was way ahead of us on this. Here’s something he once said, “I have never agreed to using live fish as bait, which is a danger because it can result in unwanted introductions and cause all sorts of problems. But it’s so well entrenched world-wide, you can’t even talk about it. It’s all about business.”
Well, we were finally able to talk about it, and we banned the use of live fish as bait in all those Heritage brook trout waters. That must have made Roger very happy.
I also found this statement from Roger to be interesting. “I would hate to see it come to the point where people don’t catch fish to eat anymore, where they just catch fish for the pleasure of it. Catch-and-release, over and over again, is not good for the fish. It’s very stressful and it’s an amoral act… Kill them and eat them, or leave them alone.”
Yes, he was outspoken! And he was also innovative and visionary. Roger actually helped create the Fisheries Division at Maine’s Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, and was the first biologist to ever survey many of the lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams in the Moosehead region.
Roger died on March 14 at the age of 97. I will include his obituary, published in the Bangor Daily News, at the end of this column. Please take time to read it and to appreciate all he did for us. Roger’s wife Suzanne AuClair, a columnist for the Northwoods Sporting Journal, wrote a wonderful tribute to Roger in the May 2016 edition of the Journal.
“From the time he could walk,” wrote Suzanne, “Roger was interested in fish. And water.” His family fished the Presumpscot River “and ate all they caught. They caught eels, hornpout, pickerel, set up a fire and ate them on the spot… They fished with a stick and string.”
After he became a fisheries biologist, “He said he was never bored a day in this life and enjoyed all aspects of his work. One time he was invited to become an administrator in Augusta, but said no, even though it meant a raise and ‘promotion.’ He knew he’d found his place and would never be as fulfilled as he was managing the fish at Moosehead.”
When he started, Roger’s district actually covered almost a quarter of the state, including the headwaters of most of our great river systems. And he did a superb job, always.
ROCKWOOD – Roger Philibert AuClair, 97, died peacefully of natural causes March 14. He was born in Oakland, Sept. 13, 1918, the fourth of seven children to Charles and Claudia (Morin) AuClair. He was raised in Westbrook, hunting, trapping and fishing along the Presumpscot River. Those happy early years along the river influenced the rest of his life. He graduated St. Hyacinth parochial school and Westbrook High School in 1936, then apprenticed as a machinist with Knowlton Company in Westbrook until WWII.
He joined the 1st Marine Division in 1940 and served as a communications platoon leader in the Fourth Joint Assault Signal Company at Pelelieu, where he was wounded in action, and at Okinawa. After the war he settled in Philadelphia with first wife, Josie (Remez) AuClair, studied engineering and taught at Drexel Institute of Technology.
He transferred to the University of Maine and, through the GI bill, received a Bachelor of Science in wildlife management in 1954 and a Master of Science in zoology in 1956. He was a first surveyor of many of the lakes, ponds and streams of northern and eastern Maine and helped form the State of Maine’s Fisheries Division under Dr. W. Harry Everhart. He wrote two foundation works: The White Perch of Sebasticook Lake and Moosehead Lake Fishery Management. He was appointed to open the Moosehead Lake Region’s fisheries headquarters, then spent his career managing those waters and field training new fishery biologists. Bilingual in French and English, he formed progressive business relations with private timberland companies, dam companies, and loggers from Maine and Canada. He said he was never bored a day in his life and enjoyed all aspects of his work. Colleagues called him an early innovator and a visionary. He was a meticulous scientist who introduced some of the first restorative fishery projects to the state, especially for wild brook trout. He is remembered as a quiet man who was good at finding fresh answers to old problems. He was widely known for his understated strength, sharp intellect, and steady nature, which served the state, public, and profession well at a pivotal time in Maine history. His early work provided exemplary contributions that extend to today’s management. He retired in 1985 to care for Josie during ill health.
Over the next quarter century he continued attending fisheries and sportsmen’s meetings and remained current on the wildlife management issues of the day. He loved the outdoors and believed in the conservation of natural resources. He received Trout Unlimited’s Silver Trout Award for his outstanding contribution to the conservation of coldwater fisheries. The Roach River Wildlife Management Area was co-dedicated in his name. In 2010 he received the Award of Professional Excellence from the University of Maine’s Dept. of Wildlife Ecology in recognition of a distinguished career that brought honor to the university. In 2013 Roger was honored by the Forest Society of Maine for his contributions to conserving Maine’s brook trout. He enjoyed fishing, hunting, building canoes, and life with second wife, Suzanne (Smith) AuClair. In his 90s, he initiated the state’s first reference anthology, “The Origin, Formation and History of Maine’s Inland Fisheries Division.”
Roger was a member of the American Fisheries Society and the Cecil R. Cole Post 94 of the American Legion. He was a regular contributor to most local organizations, and a long-time supporter of The Nature Conservancy, among conservation groups. He was a devoted husband and friend.
He is survived and will be sadly missed by Suzanne; sisters Margaret Gildart, Sylvia and husband Emery Girouard of Westbrook; brother Armand and wife Mavis of Columbus, Ohio; many nieces, nephews. He had no children.
Roger was blessed with the exceptional care he received from Dr. Doyle at Jackman Health Center; the superb care received from PA-C Groft and Dr. Babbitt, the compassionate, professional staff at C.A. Dean Memorial Hospital, Greenville; and the Greenville and Rockwood emergency crews this winter.
A celebration of his life will be held later this spring. Online condolences may be shared at www.laryfuneralhome.com.