State now agrees canid shot near Cooperstown was endangered species
By Mike Lynch
A Princeton University DNA examination found a canid killed by a hunter in December near Cooperstown was a gray wolf, and the state Department of Environmental Conservation is now confirming that analysis.
Both DEC and wildlife advocates received lab results on Tuesday.
The Princeton analysis determined the animal to be 96.2% Great Lakes gray wolf, 1.6% gray wolf, and 1.4% eastern wolf, according to data released from the advocates. Dog and coyote DNA made up less than 1% each.
There are thousands of wolves in the Great Lakes, including Wisconsin and Michigan, the closest known U.S. population. They are found in 11 states overall. Wolf populations also exist north of New York state in Canada, including in Algonquin Park.
Young wolves, which disperse to start their own packs, have been known to travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory.
“Natural recolonization of the state by wolves is currently unlikely,” DEC said Wednesday evening when verifying what the advocates had revealed about the Princeton findings.
But DEC said there is no further evidence in the form of trail camera photos or otherwise to definitively determine the origin of the wolf. The department has told the Explorer it may do further testing to determine if the animal was wild or a captive released or escaped.
A look through previous coverage of this topic:
- Nonprofit groups first bring up the issue
- State, wildlife advocates at odds over DNA test results of animal killed last year
- Coalition to state: Do more for wolves
- Commentary on the issue by Peter Bauer of Protect the Adirondacks
A captive gray wolf in a large outdoor enclosure near Kalispell, Montana. Photo by Larry Master
This is the second independent lab that has come to the conclusion the 85-pound canid was a wolf.
In July, the Natural Resources DNA Profiling & Forensic Centre at Trent University in Ontario, hired at the behest of wildlife recovery advocates, released its genetic analysis of the Central New York canid and found the animal to be 98% gray wolf.
The Trent University wolf DNA 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.
The Princeton and Trent findings contrast with findings from the lab previously hired by DEC. The most recent tests were done by Dr. Bridgett vonHoldt, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University.
The first report commissioned by the DEC determined the animal to be an eastern coyote, “a natural hybrid of wolves.” It determined that the canid’s maternal lineage was 99.9 percent coyote. However, it found that the animal was 65.2% wolf and 34.8% coyote.
That wolf DNA analysis was done by the Wildlife Genetics Institute at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania.
That East Stroudsburg report was released to the Explorer the afternoon of Sept. 21. The Explorer originally requested to see the document in August but was told to file a Freedom of Information Law request before being given it.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, said he had also filed a request to see the report and hadn’t received it as of Sept. 21.
“That report is sitting on someone’s desk,” Bauer said. “It’s sitting on numerous computers as a PDF. It would be very easy for the DEC to release it. Research, independent analyses, that stuff is clearly available to the public under Freedom of Information laws, and it’s time for the DEC to stop stonewalling.”
The most recent results also come days after 38 individuals from state and national organizations wrote to the DEC urging action to protect wolves that are potentially living in New York State or dispersing here.
“What the DEC needs to do based upon this second confirmation is that they need to do more to educate people across New York that wolves are coming into the state, and the wolves that come into the state are entitled to the protections under the Endangered Species Act,” Bauer said.
Wildlife advocates have called for the DEC to revisit and restrict coyote hunting regulations, in addition to educating hunters about wolves and coyotes. There are no limits on how many coyotes hunters kill during the season that runs 24 hours per day from October 1 to March 26. Wolf advocates say hunters may be killing wolves that are misidentified as coyotes.
DEC says it provides information to hunters and trappers to distinguish between coyotes and wolves and will seek feedback from sportsmen’s groups when the animal is unusually large.
Wolves disappeared from New York State around 1900 due to habitat loss and because they were targeted by hunters and bounties. At least other two dead wolves have been found here over the years, including one in the southern Adirondacks in 2001 and one in Sterling in 2005. Both were shot and killed.
They are protected as statewide and federally endangered species in New York based on their historic presence. People are not allowed to kill them without a permit. DEC has said they don’t anticipate pursuing charges against the Central New York hunter, who has remained anonymous. Wolves are also protected by federal policies.
A species assessment conducted by the DEC has determined the Adirondack Park has 6,000 square miles of suitable habitat for the wolf.
DEC points to the established eastern coyote population to support its view that wolf families are not in New York, saying that wolves arriving here would likely breed with the coyotes. Eastern coyotes are already known to have a genetic makeup of wolf, coyotes and dog.
The independent tissue samples were submitted to Princeton by Joe Butera, who heads the nonprofit Northeastern Ecological Recovery Society, on behalf of several organizations that have banded together over this cause and have advocated for the return of wolves.
“Apex predator populations are crucial to healthy ecosystems,” states their recent letter to DEC. ” The absence of highly interactive species that are key to maintaining habitat and other natural functions, such as wolves and cougars, has left a functional void in our ecosystems that has degraded overall environmental quality.”
(Editor’s note: This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. September 22 with new information from DEC.)
No one should be surprised and it is almost certain there have been others that never were reported nor tested. Something needs to be done to protect this top tier predator.
Maybe they want to publish the info in a journal, they shared it in confidence with the DEC, and so they don’t want outside advocacy groups messing that up and that is why Peter just needs to be patient.
“That report is sitting on someone’s desk,” Bauer said. “It’s sitting on numerous computers as a PDF. It would be very easy for the DEC to release it. Research, independent analyses, that stuff is clearly available to the public under Freedom of Information laws, and it’s time for the DEC to stop stonewalling”
So its a wolf. Well it looks like the most probably explanation is a wolf from Canada has wandered down to Cooperstown. Maybe it wanted to visit the baseball hall of fame?
Emma S says
Who cares what % of what the ancestry is? It’s a large apex predator and we need more of those in the Great Lakes region!