Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit against Fish and Wildlife Service could give new attention to wolves in Northeast
By Mike Lynch
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has failed its duty to develop a national gray wolf recovery plan, according to a new lawsuit by The Center for Biological Diversity.
“The current recovery plan for wolves calls for three pretty select areas in the country, and our lawsuit asked the service to consider a more holistic approach in recovery planning by considering the parts of the United States where there is suitable habitat, or historical populations of wolves existed, or where recovery is only in its beginning stages,” said Sophia Ressler, an attorney for the center.
The center filed the lawsuit on Nov. 29, after sending the service a 60-day letter of intent to sue in late August.
The center contends the service’s wolf-recovery planning doesn’t address the nation as a whole and is focused on Minnesota, the delisted gray wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains, and the now separately listed Mexican gray wolf in the Southwest.
The lawsuit points to the Endangered Species Act and claims the service has failed to complete a status review for the gray wolf in a timely fashion. The suit says the last review was completed more than a decade ago, even though the act requires the agency to complete these reviews every five years.
The service’s Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Plan, which was last revised in 1992, mostly focused on Minnesota, according to the center. But the center says it should include states the animals have lived historically, such as those in the Northeast, or where they have returned. Dispersers have created new populations in Washington, Oregon, California and Colorado.
Wolves once lived in the Adirondacks but were eliminated from New York in the 1800s after they were targeted by hunters and government bounties.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s species assessment identifies 6,000 square miles of habitat for the gray wolf in the park.
Some wolves, thought to be dispersers, have been found in New York in recent decades. Last December, a hunter killed a wolf in Cherry Valley, about 25 miles south of the Adirondack Park. The state is currently doing tests to determine if the animal was wild or one that had escaped from captivity.
In 2001, a wolf was killed by a hunter in the town of Day in the southern Adirondacks. And a man shot a wolf attacking his dog in Sterling, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario, in 2005. There has been debate over whether the 2005 wolf was domesticated.
Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity, said a wolf recovery plan could be focused on reintroduction or a strategy that focuses on studying whether dispersing wolves are traveling from existing populations. It could result in land protection for wildlife corridors.
The closest known gray wolf population to the Adirondacks in the U.S. is in Michigan, where there were known to be 695 wolves in its Upper Peninsula in 2020, according to the Wolf Conservation Center. When that number is added to populations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Isle Royale National Park, Mich., the total is 4,545 in the western Great Lakes.
Canadian wolves are closer to New York. The Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources says a population of about 200 adult eastern wolves—which are smaller than gray wolves—live in Algonquin Provincial Park, about 120 miles from the New York border. The overall eastern wolf population in Ontario is 300 to 500 adults. The province also has 8,000 Great Lakes gray wolves, which can be found as far south as Algonquin Provincial Park.
Eastern wolves also live in the Papineau-LaBelle reserve in Quebec’s Laurentian Mountains, 60 miles from New York.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos told the Explorer in early November the DEC wasn’t planning to reintroduce wolves, but if they came here from other populations the department would work to protect and understand them.
“We’re working just to allow them to return naturally,” he said. “We’re not putting a barrier up.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn’t respond to requests for comment.