Adirondack Council has called upon the NYS Dept. Environmental Conservation to drop a previously announced plan to remove the gray wolf from New York’s endangered species list.
Species listed as endangered are granted special protections from hunting and habitat loss. The state had announced a plan to remove the wolf from the endangered list because the state considered the animal extinct in New York (a.k.a. extirpated).
“This is only one possible sign that wild wolves may be living in or near New York’s wildest places again, which means we need to be careful to avoid harming them by mistake,” said Adirondack Council Executive Director William C. Janeway. “Keeping them on the endangered species list will ensure that they have a fighting chance to reestablish themselves in the world’s largest temperate deciduous forest. Wolves are one of the last pieces missing from the once-tattered fabric of life in the Adirondack Park. It has taken a century to weave it back together this far. We still have work to do.”
“Giving gray wolves a chance to come back can help New York to more fully heal the damage our ancestors did to the Adirondacks 100 years ago,” Janeway said. “Today, we are better informed about ecosystems and how they function. We know wolves would bring only benefits to our forests. We also know that protecting their homes is entirely compatible with the state’s goals to absorb carbon dioxide and protect humanity from the ravages of climate change. By saving the wolf, we can also save ourselves.”
Janeway pointed hopefully to recent federal court decisions that restored protections to wolves that were removed during the Trump administration. The decisions earned those federal judges a thumb-up rating in the Council’s 2022 State of the Park report. DEC’s decision to remove the wolf from New York’s list earned a thumb down rating in the same report.
A health adult wolf was shot this summer in Otsego County, by someone who mistook it for a coyote. DNA testing revealed that the 85-pound canine was a wolf, not a coyote. While coyotes are much more common than wolves, they are similar in appearance and are difficult for an untrained person to differentiate from a wolf.
This is especially so in the Adirondacks, where the loss wolves to bounty hunters in the 1800s left empty its ecological niche, which was partially filled by coyotes. Typical Adirondack coyotes are nearly twice as large as coyotes living west of the Mississippi River and even as nearby as the Albany Pine Bush Preserve. Those coyotes rarely exceed 40 pounds.
Janeway noted that DNA testing has shown large Adirondack coyotes to possess some wolf DNA as well. Wolf-coyote interbreeding was dismissed as impossible by many scientists only a generation ago. Since all dogs are descended from wolves, it difficult to draw a line stating how much wolf DNA is needed for a canine to behave like a wolf or take the same prey.
For example, coyotes hunting in packs frequently kill deer, but are generally too small to kill even an immature moose. Moose are beginning to repopulate the Adirondacks in several locations. Wolves are one of only two natural predators for moose. The other is the mountain lion (cougar, panther), which is also officially listed as extirpated from New York.
Photo of wolf courtesy Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.