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NH: Is the wolf back in NH? Possible sighting reported in Madison

By Paula Tracy

Wolves last seen in New Hampshire in 1895

MADISON, N.H. —Is the wolf back?

Experienced hunter and mushroom forager Denise Noel said she believes a large gray wolf is living in her neighborhood.

She lives near Big Pea Porridge Pond on the Madison/Conway town line and not far from Tasker Hill Road in Conway.

She said at the corner of Big Loop Road and Eidelweiss Drive there is a den.

While no photos exist as of yet, she said she saw the animal with her daughter and on Monday photographed paw prints in the snow.

“My daughter and I have seen a large black wolf in the early hours walking down the street. It’s large, black and alone,” she said.

She said others in the neighborhood have seen the same and are missing pets.

“I’m concerned that the small animal population will run low and it may go for something bigger,” she said.

In two years, she said she knows of 10 cats and two dogs who have not returned from the woods.

Fish and Game wildlife biologist Pat Tate said while it may be a wolf or a wolf hybrid, it is not that likely.

He was unaware of the problems in Madison.

The federally endangered grey wolf has had a tough time around here, since the early settlers moved in and feared it.

“There was no predator problem in primeval New Hampshire. The Indians had no livestock to be lost to bears and wolves, but the colonists had the greatest difficulty,” wrote Helenette Silver in her book “History of New Hampshire Game and Furbearers,” published in 1957. “Cows and hogs, unless constantly guarded when they were turned into the woods to forage were lost more often than not. It was almost impossible to keep sheep.”

In 1679, a bounty was placed on wolves by the General Assembly under the Colonial government.

New Hampshire kept that law until they were all gone, or almost.

The wolf was last seen on New Hampshire soil in 1895.

While habitat loss by settlers was an issue, Silver wrote, their extirpation was “hastened by the concentrated efforts of hunters.”

Tate was sent Noel’s photos and read Noel’s description in an email forwarded.

“It is impossible for me to identify which species she witnessed as New Hampshire’s eastern coyote population has multiple color phases, including black, and some individuals can weigh 45 pounds. A coyote weighing 45 pounds on a scale will appear to look as though it weighs 60 or more pounds to the eye. Fur length and general body shape make the species appear much larger than they are weight wise,” she said.

The dogs taken in the Madison area are Yorkshire terriers, a small dog, which disappeared during walks six months apart.

“Unfortunately, eastern coyotes are known to take domestic dogs. Domesticated wolf/dog hybrids are always a possibility with wolf sighting reports,” Tate said.

New Hampshire law allows wolf/dog hybrids to be owned under RSA 466-a.

“In past circumstances, I have been supplied photographs of animals that had behaviors and features of domesticated wolf/dog hybrids. Knowing that, I can not rule out the possibility of a wolf/dog hybrid on the landscape,” Tate said. “Is it a wolf in Madison? Possibly yes but a very low probability as I am only aware of four instances, over the last 20 or so years, occurring in New England where a wild canid was determined to be wolf.”

Small mammal populations fluctuate due to many reasons, he said.

“Mast crop, disease, weather, and predation, all impact small mammal populations. I am not able to determine what factor, or combination of factors, may have reduced small mammal populations in the Madison area,” he said.

Noel said she is convinced this is a wolf and thinks she knows the difference between a coyote and wolf.

She walks her large dog in this area “and we do walk in deep woods. Its a very populated bear area,” she said.

“Our neighbor walks her four dogs daily on a trail in the woods. Last year she came back with one less Yorkie and this year the other Yorkie is now gone while she was with them,” walking near this area.

“Our cat is gone and a few others; also squirrel population is also low,” she said.’

On Monday, she said she found the den and photographed paw prints in the snow and they were forwarded to Tate at Fish and Game.

She noted there used to be a kennel for hybrid wolves in the Conway area and it is possible this is some animal that was let go or got out or a descendent.

But whatever it is, there is something which terrified her 95 pound dog and now has her wanting the neighbors and visitors to the Edelweiss development to be aware.

What she saw, she said, “comes up to my hip. It is a beautiful animal. It is just as black as night. It is either seen running or trotting like fox.”

“Honestly I am not scared but there is something in the woods that is making the dogs come running back,” she said.

Eric P. Orff, a retired NH wildlife biologist, author, photographer and lecturer noted in a published paper that gray wolves were the last member of the canid family with ties to New Hampshire.

“Two to three times the size of the eastern coyote, the gray wolf weighs up to 150 pounds, though it’s about the same length as the coyote. The wolf ranges in color from sandy to grizzled, and has a black phase.

“In 1993, a wolf was killed in northern Maine, and other sightings have since occurred there. A population of wolves lives in Quebec, just 200 miles north of New Hampshire. In fact, a female wolf was killed in Canada two years ago within 20 miles of the New Hampshire border. In the fall of 2003, a wolf was killed in New York State that had the genetic profile of a Great Lakes gray wolf; officials are still attempting to confirm whether the animal was wild or captive-reared.

“New Hampshire, with land that is 90 percent wooded and thriving populations of moose, deer and beaver — prime wolf foods — has many of the right habitat ingredients to support a wolf population. Within the next few decades, we may see wolves return to New Hampshire on their own,” Orff wrote.

To see the general area where the sightings in Madison occurred, visit