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NY: Wolves could come back

Gov’t agencies wonder how much they should be protected

By MIKE LYNCH – Outdoors Writer
Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Wolves have been extinct in New York since the late 1800s, but a test performed by the New York State Museum has determined that at least one wild wolf migrated to the Adirondacks within the last decade, adding new information to an ongoing debate about whether wolves should be federally protected in New York if they return on their own, as moose did.

Museum curators Roland Kays and Robert Feranec used a new isotope test on the hair and bone fragments of eight dead wolves found in the Northeast over the last 27 years to determine if they had been living in the wild or had escaped from captivity. The test was able to determine if the animals were eating food typical of animals in the wild or in captivity.

The results revealed that three wolves had a history of eating wild foods and the others had been eating food in captivity. One of these wild wolves was found shot and killed near Great Sacandaga Lake in Saratoga County in 2001, and the other two came from Vermont in 1998 and 2006.

Wolves survive to the north in Ontario and Quebec, and have recently been expanding in the Great Lakes. Although this research shows that there have been at least three naturally immigrating wolves in the Northeast, the researchers involved with the study pointed out there is no evidence at this point to suggest there is an established breeding population. Rather, it is likely that these few wolves migrated to the Northeast from the Great Lakes area or from Canada, looking for potential mates.

Citing other studies, Kays and Feranec note that the recent recovery of wolves throughout much of the Great Lakes region and increased protection of wolves in Ontario make it likely that more wolves will migrate into the northeastern U.S. in the near future.

“There is substantial suitable habitat in northern New York and New England that could support a viable population of wolves,” Kays said.

Protection for wolves

The potential for wolves to migrate to New York state and the Northeast has raised new questions about whether wolf conservation plans in New York should be reconsidered, including at the federal level.

“Basically, there is no conservation plan for wolves in the East,” Kays said. “There was a lot of talk a while ago about a governmental plan to reintroduce the wolves. That never really went anywhere. In its place we have nothing. Now with the results of our studies, we can say that wolves might come back on their own. ‘If they do, is that something we want to encourage or discourage?’ is the first question as a state we have to ask, and as a region we have to ask.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working on its wolf conservation strategies based on changes to the population, among other things. Earlier this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to remove gray wolves in the western Great Lakes area from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife- which includes Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, and portions of adjoining states. Agency officials have said wolves have recovered in this area and no longer require federal protection. The service also proposed to revise the range of the gray wolf in all or parts of 29 eastern states because the eastern wolf has been recently recognized as a full species and not a subspecies of the gray wolf.

If the federal range for gray wolves is revised not to include eastern states, there would be no federal protection for wolves migrating to the Northeast, although state protections would remain in place.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman Meagan Racey said her agency is aware of the new study and is taking it into consideration as it determines whether to revise protection status of wolves in the Northeast. Racey also provided the Enterprise with a statement that says, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to carry out the national wolf conservation strategy outlined in the proposed rule to remove all or portions of 29 eastern states from the gray wolf listing. As we do so, we are carefully reviewing taxonomic and other scientific information – such as the recently published isotope study – related to the presence of wolves in the Northeast.”

The statement continues to say that “the perspectives of the affected states and tribes are crucial. We want to assure everyone that we’re giving scientific information and public comments serious consideration as we determine whether or not these states should be removed from the gray wolf listing.”

When contacted by the study, DEC in Albany issued a statement from Christopher Amato, assistant commissioner for natural resources.

“This study provides crucial additional evidence that recent proposals by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove endangered species protection from wolves in the Northeast and to abandon wolf recovery efforts in the Northeast are premature,” Amato said. “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.”