When Lisa Kane accepted a job with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife back in 1989, she took a job that had never existed with a job description that she would essentially write for herself.
“It was a brand-new position, natural science educator,” Kane said Thursday, a day before her retirement after a 30-year career with the department. “They hired me and basically said, ‘Go educate.’ They had no plan. They had no nothing. They’re like, ‘We really want to educate people about wildlife. Go do it.”
And do it, she did.
Kane has been a point person on education ever since, teaching groups at the Maine Wildlife Park at Swan Island, and working with educators to show them how the state’s wildlife and wild places can play a role in the classroom.
“Lisa’s work during her 30-year career has helped tremendously to raise awareness of fish and wildlife management and conservation efforts in Maine,” said Emily MacCabe, director of information and education at the DIF&W. “Through her work, Lisa has established the foundation of our outreach and education efforts, and her legacy will proudly be carried forward for years to come.”
Kane, who retires as the DIF&W’s education coordinator, said she has always been allowed to set her own course within the department’s guidelines.
“My entire career, basically, I’ve been self-starting, self-made,” she said. “Nobody’s really told me to do anything. Everything that I’ve really done has just been self-initiated.”
When Kane was hired, she was taken to what was then called the “game farm” in Gray, which later became the Maine Wildlife Park. At that time, between 10,000 and 15,000 people visited the farm each year. They paid nothing and spent time wandering around trying to figure out what to look at.
“The department was paying no attention to it and frankly wanted to close it,” Kane said. “I asked Gary Donovan, who was the wildlife division director at the time, ‘Can I start doing stuff down there? Because if you want to educate about wildlife, this is the place to do it.’”
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Anderson agreed, and the department allowed Kane to start installing interpretive signs about the species that visitors might see. A “friends” group was formed and started raising money. Donovan eventually created a dedicated account for the park.
“And it just grew from there,” Kane said. “I certainly haven’t done it by myself … the superintendents and staff have been unbelievable. The Friends of the Maine Wildlife Park have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for special wildlife exhibits and displays. And we have a core group of over 200 volunteers now.”
Nowadays, more than 125,000 paying customers visit the park each year. They check out the bears, moose, deer, beavers and eagles. And as they meander through the park, they study the extensive interpretive signage that Kane created.
Kane said she has conducted workshops for 15,000 educators over the years, helping show how wildlife-related themes can be used to teach math, science, social studies, English, art or any other subject. All of those efforts help share the department’s message and illuminate the wildlife that exists here.
“That has always been my goal: to weave in what the department does, its programs and projects, its management strategies and projects, to let people know, even kids as little as kindergarteners, what we’re doing to help out the wildlife in the state of Maine,” Kane said.
Kane has also overseen the social media accounts, including the Facebook page, for the Maine Wildlife Park. When George, “our most excellent moose” died earlier this year, the outpouring of support from the public reinforced a message that was gratifying to Kane.
“We had over 80,000 views, hundreds of comments on the Facebook page about George and the impact he made on people,” Kane said. “It’s pretty amazing that this one moose made such an impression on so many people.”
With Kane’s help, that is.
And as she steps away from this career, she has spent time reminiscing about all the critters she has been able to spend time around.
“You can talk about the budgets, and you can talk about staff, and you can talk about the grounds, but it’s all about the animals [at the park],” Kane said. “And that’s the emphasis that I’m leaving everyone with here: We all have to understand that it’s all about the animals.”
As for future plans, Kane is keeping her schedule open. She might take a part-time job at some point. She might not.
“I’m just going to take the summer off. I’m going to ride my horses whenever I want. I’m going to go fishing whenever I want. I’m going to go kayaking whenever I want,” she said. “I’m just going to follow my own interests for a while, but I don’t have any specific plans.”
Watch: 5-month-old moose enjoys a meal at Maine Wildlife Park