Animal shot a decade ago hints at the arrival of predator in New York
By BRIAN NEARING Staff writer
ALBANY — A wolf shot by a hunter a decade ago in the Adirondacks near Great Sacandaga Lake was the first proven wild wolf in New York in more than a century, according to a new study Monday from the New York State Museum.
Killed in 2001 in the town of Day — about 10 miles west of the village of Corinth, Saratoga County — the 99-pound male gray wolf could portend the predator’s potential return from Canada and the Great Lakes, where its populations are growing.
“We have no evidence that there is a breeding population of wolves in the state, but it is quite possible for more wolves to arrive in the Northeast,” said Roland Kays, a curator at the museum. “There is substantial suitable habitat in northern New York and New England that could support a viable population of wolves.”
Kays, along with fellow curator Robert Feranec, developed a new kind of carbon isotope test on hair and bone that proved the Sacandaga Lake wolf lived on a diet in the wild, and had never been a pet or zoo specimen fed by humans.
Kay said a hunter shot the wolf as it fed on a deer carcass placed as bait for coyotes. Seeing the animal was not a coyote, the hunter gave the wolf carcass to the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which called in federal wildlife officials, who confiscated it. Federal endangered species rules have protected wolves since 1967.
Published in this month’s issue of Northeastern Naturalist, the peer-reviewed study by Kays and Feranec examined eight wolves shot by hunters in the Northeast during the last three decades. The study also found that two wild wolves were killed in northeastern Vermont, in Orleans County on the Canadian border, in 1998 and 2006. The remaining five wolves tested were animals that had escaped captivity or been released.
“Wolf populations in Michigan and Wisconsin are booming, and they can be migrating along the northern Great Lakes to reach New York,” said Kays. “These animals could be the first colonizers in the Northeast.”
He said the young male wolf shot in New York likely was in search of territory and a mate when it came into the state.
The animal is the first wild specimen known to be in the state since 1893, when one was shot near Brandeth Lake, Hamilton County, by Adirondack guide Ruben Cary. That wolf has been on display for more than four decades at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.
Kays said the Great Sacandaga wolf pelt will be put on display next year at the State Museum.
The DEC issued a statement saying the study shows federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials need to reverse efforts to remove endangered species protections for wolves in the Northeast.
Said Christopher Amato, assistant commissioner for natural resources, “We continue to believe that natural recovery of wolves in the Northeast is possible and urge the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its recent proposals and to update its wolf recovery plan to reflect this new scientific information and support the natural recolonization by wolves.”
USFW officials were not able to provide comment Monday.
In July 2004, federal officials proposed removing the wolf from the endangered species in the east, due to growing wolf populations from recovery efforts in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.
That proposal also would eliminate protections in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, something wolf recovery advocates say would hamper efforts to restore the predators to suitable habitat.
The carbon isotope test detects the presence of corn-based pet food or grain-fed livestock that are fed to captive wolves. This summer, the State Museum also used this test to show that a cougar found in Connecticut after being hit by a car had spent its life eating typical wild prey, and was not a captive animal that had escaped or been released.
That animal had migrated from South Dakota, passing through Lake George last winter on its journey,