I am so sorry to note that Dave Maehr was killed in an airplane crash last Friday while looking for bears near Lake Placid when the plane's engine stalled (photo of Dave by Carlton Ward, Jr.).
I met Dave Maehr for the first time back in, I think, the mid-1980s. He had found a large, hollow cypress tree in the Mormon Branch floodplain of the Ocala National Forest. Because the tree had bear claw marks on it, he wanted to learn whether it was a winter bear den. A positive finding would have been interesting because no other bear den had ever been found in a tree in Florida. The only way to settle the question was to climb the tree, because the only entry into the hollow was through its broken crown.
Bob Simons, Florida naturalist extraordinaire and the friend who taught me how to id and nominate champion trees, told Dave that I had developed a safe technology to climb such forest giants. Dave contacted me and the next thing I knew we were standing in front of that marvelous vegetable. The three of us studied the situation for a few minutes and then the conversation suddenly transitioned into an expectant quiet. I was on.
I cleared out a small area below the tree so a long monofilament line could be laid out without becoming entangled in the greenbriar, and using a bowfishing rig shot an arrow attached to it over a crown limb. An eighth-inch line was then pulled over the limb with the monofilament, and then a static 11mm caving rope was pulled over the limb using the eighth-inch line. I put on my harness and ascending gear, and climbed the tree.
It's a good thing there was no bear inside that tree, as it most certainly would have climbed back out of the tree before I could have changed over from ascending to rappelling gear. Dave assured me that if there had been a bear in there, it would have zoomed past me and down the tree and into the swamp quicker than greased lightning. I guess I trusted Dave lot at that point.
Dave and I had a few more encounters over the years, the last one being an email thread a couple of months ago. When Bob first introduced us, I expected Dave to be like so many other Florida state biologists I had met – that is, rather supercilious toward me, an environmental consultant. I guess I was initially a little offish toward him, which he instantly sensed, but rather than take it on the chin or reflect my attitude back, he used his natural charm to totally disarm me. Within a few minutes we were buddies, so I really appreciate the statement that “[h]e wore out his welcome at the commission.” Certainly, mine is worn out, too.
In our last email communications, Dave allowed me to invite myself on one of his South Florida bear hunting research expeditions. Had I known about his last flight, I just might have been allowed to invite myself along for that ride, too. Scary, that Fate. I wish I could be given the honor to finish the bear book that he was working on. I am retired and have the time, am a fair writer and am confident that Dave left the copious notes it would take for me to do so. It would be the best way that I could honor his memory, his perseverance, his life.
Floridians have lost the man who possibly was the best friend that Florida bears and Florida panthers have ever had. The rest of us have merely lost a loved relative and a great friend.