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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NYS and DEC need to come up with a plan for canids. Does it really matter how “pure” the genetics were in the suspected wolf killed in Otsego Co.? Does it matter if it was wild or domesticated? Do we need to spend a couple years studying this animal before coming up with a plan??
As we now know with canids, they can re-introduce themselves as “pure” wild stock, or they can perform the process genetically. They already have done this to some extent with eastern coyotes. There is no reason why the process cannot continue – slowly breeding the coyote out of the animal, replacing it with a hybrid more wolf-like. It is more likely the hybrid will be more successful than “pure” grey wolves in the NE.
But what is the DEC’s position on these predator hybrids? Will we continue to persecute them as we do our current coy-wolves, or will we allow them to thrive and provide realistic predator/prey controls over prey species? I think it is unrealistic to expect hunters to be able to discriminate one hybrid species from another. And what about trappers – how do they discriminate? I feel we should consider them all wild canid hybrids, and alter the game laws to create a healthy canid hybrid population that is effective in keeping prey species healthy and in sustainable numbers. Hybridization would likely select for the proper gene mix for the NE.
Perhaps the gene mix is “perfect” now in coy-wolves, and grey wolves will never stand a chance of establishing pure breeding populations here. Perhaps they are not road-wary enough or as wary of humans. But at least if they are not shot indiscriminately, they may stand a chance of a pure population that could push out many coy-wolves or replace coyote genes with wolf genes. But DEC studying the problem to death is just kicking the can down the road. Since there will likely be no practical way of discriminating species in the field without genetic testing, I would suggest protecting ALL “wild (non-Vulpes) canids” with reasonable hunting laws – regardless of size or genetic mix. [Red and grey fox already have some reasonable protection.] Then adjust the bag limits as necessary for proper predator/prey balance.
David E Shellenberger says
The coalition calls for banning or restricting the hunting of coyotes since hunters mistake wolves for coyotes.
My view is that coyotes should be protected on the basis that killing them or other furbearers is inhumane. This policy would also solve the problem of hunter confusion.
It is important to carefully distinguish between protected, unprotected, and “managed” game and non-game species in the view of the DEC. “Protecting” a species does not necessarily eliminate it from hunting and trapping. Only “full protection” – often federal or international – does that. The politics of endangered and threatened species gets even more convoluted and apparent.
From DEC website:
In New York State, nearly all species of wildlife are protected. Most species, including endangered species, songbirds, hawks and owls are fully protected and may not be taken. The few unprotected species include porcupine, red squirrel, woodchuck, English sparrow, starling, rock pigeon, and monk parakeet. Unprotected species may be taken at any time without limit. A hunting license is required to hunt unprotected wildlife with a bow, crossbow, or firearm.”
Zack Porter says
We have 30,000+ NY coyote hunters every year. How many of these hunters, sober or drunk, can properly identify a wolf from a coyote–especially at dusk or at night? Coyotes and wolves are necessary natural predators. Where can they exist without fear and do more than just survive? They live in diminishing wilderness heavily dominated and plundered by humans. A step in the right direction would be to use common sense and ban the hunting/trapping of coyotes.
John Joseph McManus III says
This is totally ridiculous!!!!!!!~ How can coyote hunter be given a license when he does not know or care what he shooting is shooting. Why is it so important to kill coyotes in the first place. Was there any fine or was there license revoked? I think that these coyote hunters need a refresher course on what Adirondack mammals look like. If they are not sure-then don’t shoot.