Wildlife Officer Earl Pilgrim is on a mission. The moose population on the Great Northern Peninsula has been decimated and he has promised the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to end the poaching threat. Through the character John Christian, author Earl Pilgrim takes the reader into his world of stakeouts, bare-knuckled standoffs, and high-speed chases across the frozen barrens of the north. Blood on the Hills is an autobiography. It is a tale of selfless determination involving great personal risk to carry out a mission that seemed impossible.
In 1984, conservation officers were working frantically to protect wildlife on Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula. Conducting a survey, they found only a few moose there. Realizing that if there were to be a moose population in the Roddickton-St. Anthony area, the breeding stock would have to be obtained from the Cat Cove resource, as small as it was.
Some years earlier, the Department of Forestry had introduced moose by truck to the Roddickton area. At that time, John Christian worked as a Forest Ranger. One moose—a cow with calf—died less than half a mile from where it was released into the wilds. The other, a bull, had succeeded in travelling approximately twenty miles north, where it was brutally run down and shot near Bear Cove.
Years later, government kept encountering stiff opposition, but nevertheless struck hard. John Christian, now a Wildlife Officer created many enemies in the process. Even some of John’s closest friends and relatives told him he was going too far.
On the other hand, another friend, Dr. Gorden W. Thomas, executive director of the International Grenfell Association encouraged John, backing him with the Association’s resources.
Judge Robert Jenkins, now retired, understood their job, and knew what a wildlife population meant to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. In this regard, he had given many hunters their just desserts. Poachers actually had a nickname for him—Wildlife Jenkins! When storms were howling and the lamplight was flickering at night, Judge Jenkins was the prime topic of conversation in many cabins, especially if someone under the roof was scheduled for a court appearance.
Unfortunately, even with a strict court, air surveillance, and ground patrols, the residents of Cat Cove were still beating them to the punch. John chatted with the prominent people in the town, but the carnage didn’t stop. For years, his supervisor, Norman Muise, was as puzzled as his officers over their lack of success.
In time the truth came out. An informant in Roddickton was watching law enforcement staff closely and relaying their movements to poachers in Cat Cove. After a lengthy strategy meeting, Muise decided they would have to act as deviously as the lawbreakers. “If we can’t outwit them,” it was reasoned, “then we have no right to call ourselves wildlife officers.”
In Roddickton, there was a signal leak in the telephone system. Some radio frequencies could be tuned in to the microwave tower by placing the receiver on the floor near an electrical outlet. When the unit was turned on, it picked up telephone conversations. The minute one transmission ended, the rogue radio receiver picked up another. With four or five of these in operation, the majority of local conversations could be intercepted and sensitive information gathered.
Wildlife Officer John Christian reported this suspected activity to the R.C.M.P., who investigated and confirmed that this was happening. As a consequence, the phone company installed a scrambler on their equipment.
Government decided to use the informants against the poachers. Since the snitches were reporting Wildlife’s movements to avoid arrest, it was only poetic justice to feed them misleading information for relay back to their co-conspirators!
To fool the suspects and their go-betweens, a fake duck-hunting trip to the Grey Islands was planned, eighteen miles offshore from Englee. Concocted information was planted to give the impression wildlife officers were going to be far away on a weekend of rest and relaxation. With the poachers lured into a false sense of security, the lawmen planned to circle the killing grounds and apprehend the poachers from inland.
Winter travel to the Grey Islands is by plane or helicopter. On Friday afternoon, Eric Kinden and John would go to the Grey Islands with Rex Boyd, using a Cessna 185 from Belvey Aviation.
The week-long trip received extensive publicity. Christian had contacted the snitch, confident he would be excited to be part of a grand conspiracy to put one over on the wildlife officers. He was given clear, unambiguous information: the date, time and place of the Grey Islands weekend retreat.
The “vacationers” added to the illusion by borrowing guns and driving around town with their duck decoys in full view. Fisheries Officer Eric Kinden, a dedicated public servant who encountered much verbal abuse in his job that demanded working nights and weekends, decided to take his annual leave to be part of the carefully planned operation.
Around nine o’ clock on Saturday morning, Norman Muise and another officer would go by helicopter to the Cat Cove area. If they discovered any suspicious activity, Rex Boyd would fetch the officers on the Grey Islands for the sting operation. Otherwise, they really would end up having a holiday.
At their offshore command post, the men settled inside their cabin. It snowed on Saturday, a little mild, and there was nothing to do but sit around listening to the radio and impatiently check the time. The weather was perfect for poaching. “What a day the boys will have in on the country,” John remarked.
At Cormack, Norman Muise awoke early. Looking through the window, he noticed the snow and thought. This is a good morning for the boys at Cat Cove. They’re guaranteed to be in at the moose today.
Still in his underwear, Norman picked up the phone receiver and called John Ennis, the helicopter pilot at Pasadena, about twenty miles from Cormack, at the base of the Great Northern Peninsula.
After a few rings, Ennis picked up the phone. “Hello there, it’s Norm. It looks like a pretty good morning, doesn’t it?”
“I haven’t looked out yet,” Ennis said sleepily. “Have you?”
“Yes,” Norman said. “It’s snowing here.”
“How bad is it?” Ennis asked.
“Oh, not too bad,” Norman replied. “I don’t think it’ll keep us from flying.”
“Have you heard the forecast this morning?”
“No, but it looks mild. There are big snowflakes falling.”
Ennis was concerned. “I hope it doesn’t get frosty enough to ice up the blades.”
Norman shot back at Ennis, joking. “My son, are you losing your nerve?”
Ennis laughed. “I’m getting up now,” he said. “There’s no point in going in too early, though. We could scare these guys off.”
“I know,” Norman said. “How about if we left here around eight? I figure we should be up there just in time to nab anyone on the ground up to no good.”
“Okay, I’ll pick you up at eight.”
“Great, I’ll see you then,” Norman said, hanging up.
While Muise and Ennis were up and getting mobile, Eric Kinden and John Christian were getting cabin fever. The morning snowfall was followed by freezing rain, setting up ideal weather conditions for poaching. Christian hoped this wasn’t the case around Cat Cove and areas south. Freezing rain was the greatest deterrent to winter flying. Pilots were always on alert for this kind of condition, and refused to take any chances with the safety of passengers. If the weather became too rough, it would prevent Norman Muise from reaching the area. There was nothing to do but put on a big feed of salt beef and potatoes and enjoy Basic Black on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Written with intimate knowledge of the wildlife he [Pilgrim] protected, and in the everyday language of Newfoundland, the book [Blood on the Hills] is equal parts crime/mystery and wildlife tale.-- Atlantic Books Today --
This is an excellent book about the necessity of protection of wildlife in rural Newfoundland.-- The Telegram --