As it turns out, Hunter’s plans to become an international wildlife biologist and to stay in Maine weren’t mutually exclusive. His research and conservation work in 25 countries focus on biological diversity and forests, ranging from the interactions among the smallest fauna, including reptiles and amphibians in vernal pools, to the implications for large-scale phenomena, such as regional fragmentation of ecosystems. He has helped UMaine students in 11 travel-study courses to three continents discover the wonders of the natural world, and conducted groundbreaking efforts to maintain the state’s forestry industry while conserving wildlife and delicate ecosystems.
For the last 30 years, Hunter hasn’t just thought globally, he’s acted globally — and locally. Such a perspective, he says, provides a more holistic view of how to tackle larger problems.
“Ultimately,” says Hunter, “it’s all about human institutions and how one changes the world.”
Earlier this decade, he served as president of the Society for Conservation Biology and earned the international organization’s Distinguished Service Award for his leadership. But when Hunter started out, there was no such thing as the Society for Conservation Biology because the field didn’t exist.
The discipline emerged in the late 1980s, and at first, Hunter was skeptical because it seemed like an expansion of wildlife management. However, the need for an international, interdisciplinary approach to conservation soon became apparent. Today, marine scientists, social scientists, biologists, wildlife managers and others have joined the effort.
Professionally, Hunter has served on two White House task forces — one on biodiversity, the other on spotted owls. He chaired the environmental committee of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and he serves on the board of The Nature Conservancy, among his many accomplishments that are too numerous to list. But while all of this is very impressive, his classroom work is equally important.
“My overriding goal is to convince my students that the natural world is really interesting and we should take steps to conserve it,” Hunter says.
His message is powerful and his teaching style is inimitable. As one former student says, “Mac doesn’t tolerate sloppy thinking.” He believes in the power of mentorship and considers his wife, UMaine professor of wetlands ecology Aram Calhoun, and former department chair Ray “Bucky” Owen to be great role models. Just as Hunter has been a role model to so many.
“Mac believes more in a large patch of growing trees rather than a few old giant trees because the future is all about growth,” Yonzon says. “He is not only my mentor but my global comrade-in-arms in conservation biology. Actually, I have become a devout believer in mentorship — what you sow is what you get.”
With this approach, it is hardly surprising that many of Hunter’s former students have gone on to become leaders in the field, both nationally and internationally. One of those students, James Gibbs, coauthored the most recent edition of Hunter’s Fundamentals of Conservation Biology.
Gibbs, now a professor of conservation biology and herpetology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, says Hunter was a positive force during his undergraduate days, and he continues to have an influence.
“Mac invested an immense amount of time in teaching me how to write, how to be a professional and how to think,” Gibbs says. “He is so dedicated to the welfare of biological diversity you can’t help (but) get infected by his devotion.
“He also confirmed for me that it was fine to aspire to do first-rate science, get papers out in all the best journals, and learn how to do fancy stuff with computers, but also important to know your shrews, what they eat and where to find them — that is, to remain connected to field realities.”
Hunter practices what he preaches. At home, Hunter and Calhoun have turned their landscape into a sanctuary for amphibians and reptiles. He is an avid nature and wildlife photographer. He initiated efforts that will ultimately conserve more than 60,000 acres in Maine’s Penobscot Valley.
When asked about his favorite place on Earth, he speaks reverently about the Okavango Delta in northern Botswana. It is a place filled with wetlands and forested islands — a “spectacularly beautiful landscape” where he has walked among elephants and slept with lions prowling around his campsite.
“Being in a place with big, dangerous animals makes you come alive,” he says.
Image Description: During his travels, Hunter has had many opportunities to get close to creatures great and small. While Hunter was taking its photograph, this gorilla had its hand on his knee. The photograph was taken in 1988 during a trip to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.