Group presents DEC with list of action items
By Mike Lynch
A coalition of state and national wildlife and environmental organizations is urging the state Department of Environmental Conservation to do more to protect wolves entering this state.
In a letter to Commissioner Basil Seggos, the coalition referred to a DNA test that determined a canid shot in Upstate New York last December was 98% wolf. Results of that test were released in late July by Joe Butera, of the Northeast Ecological Recovery Society, who obtained the tissue sample and sent it to the Trent University lab.
The letter, signed by 38 individuals representing state and national organizations, asks for four actions from the DEC.
- The group wants the DEC to acknowledge the killing of the wolf in Otsego County and the potential additional ones could return to the state.
- It asks the DEC to keep wolves on the state’s endangered species list and to enforce the law prohibiting the killing of endangered animals.
- It wants the department to ban or restrict eastern coyote hunting and to educate hunters about the differences between wolves and coyotes. Differentiating a wolf from an eastern coyote can be complicated because eastern coyotes are known to have significant amounts of wolf genes.
- The letter calls on the state to protect lands that serve as wildlife corridors to help wolves return. Several scientific studies over the years have determined that the Adirondacks has suitable habitat for wolves.
Eastern coyotes are larger than their western counterparts and can weigh up to 50 pounds or so.
Wildlife advocates have said coyote hunters could be unintentionally killing wolves that have dispersed to New York from populations in Canada or the Great Lakes, believing they are killing coyotes.
John Glowa, of the Maine Wolf Coalition, said that since 1993 at least 10 wolves have been killed south of the St. Lawrence River, considered a barrier to Canadian wolf populations in places such as Algonquin Provincial Park. The killings, he said, include at least two in New York —one In Day, in the southern Adirondacks, in 2001; the other in Sterling, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, in 2005.
Renee Seacor, carnivore conservation advocate for Project Coyote and The Rewilding Institute, criticized the DEC’s past actions, including proposing to remove protections for the wolf in 2019 in the state wildlife action plan, during a period when federal protections had been taken away.
“It’s kind of signaling to us that the DEC isn’t really interested in gray wolf recovery in the state,” Seacor told the Explorer. “They pretty much consider them extirpated, and they don’t see the potential for their return.”
Wolves are on the state’s endangered species list because of its historic status.
Currently, state protections are in place and must remain that way as long as federal protection remains, but there is no recovery plan for the animal.
The Explorer did not request a specific response to this letter from the DEC. However, Dan Rosenblatt who heads the department’s wildlife diversity unit told the Explorer earlier this week the DEC is still in the process of determining if the dead canid is indeed a wolf.
He said the DNA test commissioned by the state and done by the Wildlife Genetics Institute at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania determined the animal’s mother to be an eastern coyote.
The DEC has yet to release the DNA results from that test despite the Explorer filing a Freedom of Information Law request in August.
Either way, those results would contradict the findings of the Natural Resources DNA Profiling & Forensic Centre at Trent University in Ontario, which found the animal to be 98% wolf. That analysis determined the animal was 52.6% Great Lakes wolf, 34.5% Northwest Territories wolf and 10.9% eastern wolf. The remaining 2% was a mix of coyote and dog genes.
Both wildlife advocates and the DEC have since sent DNA samples to Princeton University for additional testing.
If the animal is determined to be a wolf by Princeton scientists, DEC plans to do an additional test to determine if the animal was wild or captive, Rosenblatt said.
“If it’s determined that we’re starting to get natural movement of animals, it certainly would have some influence (on the state wildlife action plan),” he said. “But if it appears as if the animal had domestic history, it probably wouldn’t influence it very much at all.”
But he indicated either way there would be hurdles for wolves to return because wolves have been known to mate with coyotes in the eastern United States. In fact, the eastern coyote is known to be part wolf.
Wolves were eliminated from the state around 1900 due to overhunting and loss of habitat due to logging. With the large predator gone, coyote populations took their place in New York.
DEC plans to have drafts of updated species assessment of wolves and other endangered animals by the state of 2024 for public review. The state’s wildlife action plan must be updated by August of 2025.
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