Wildlife advocates believe wolves could come back to the Adirondacks someday and want the state to
facilitate their return.
By Mike Lynch
Standing in a snowy meadow in Wilmington, a wolf lifts its head and howls, breaking the near silence on a cold winter day. Just a few feet away Steve Hall watches the scene, a leash in his hand.
The wolf on the other end of the leash is one of three owned by Hall and his wife, Wendy, a wildlife rehabilitator. The couple owns Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, and the animals are used for education, including popular “wolf walks.” During the walks, visitors hike with Hall and the wolves. Hall hopes the walks will give people a better understanding of animals that are commonly feared even though they rarely attack humans.
Hall yearns for a day that wild wolves return to the Adirondacks. He sees the wolf not only as filling an important role in the ecosystem as a keystone predator, but also as a tourist draw.
“We publicize the Adirondacks for summer hiking, fishing, hunting, winter sports, stuff like that, but also it could be a good place to see wildlife,” Hall said. “I think we should position the Adirondacks as another place to see wildlife a la Algonquin Park [in Ontario]. We’d start to open up to a whole new type of tourist.”
Hall is one of numerous wildlife advocates who are hoping state and federal wildlife agencies will work to facilitate the wolf’s return to the Northeast. Wolves disappeared from New York State around 1900 as a result of habitat destruction and unregulated hunting. Between 1871 and 1897, ninety-eight wolves were killed for bounties in the state, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Gray wolves are listed as endangered in the Lower 48 states, but largely because they have made a comeback out west, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed delisting them. Wolves also are on New York State’s list of endangered species. In December, however, the state Department of Environmental Conservation dropped cougars, lynx, and wolves from its proposed list of Species of Greatest Conservation Need. In the past, extirpated species had been on that list, which is part of the state’s Wildlife Action Plan.
“We feel that our conservation work is better directed at retaining viable populations of the species that are currently present in New York,” said DEC biologist Joe Racette, coordinator of the Wildlife Action Plan.
At this time, DEC has no interest in reintroducing wolves to the state. Gordon Batcheller, DEC’s chief wildlife biologist, told the Explorer that the department lacks the staff and funding to reintroduce or aid the recovery of large predators such as mountain lions and wolves. He also said the department already has its hands full with hundreds of other species in need of protection. Furthermore, he said reintroducing cougars or wolves would be a complex undertaking, requiring the cooperation of nearby states and support from a wide range of stakeholders.
“We just aren’t able to take this one on right now because it’s so huge,” he said. “We don’t have the capacity to deal with it, and it would take an awful lot of analysis and evaluation and public engagement before we even got out of the gate.”
Peter Nye, who headed the DEC Endangered Species Unit before retiring in 2010, said wolves didn’t have the public’s support in the 1990s, when there was a campaign to bring them back, and doubts that they do now. “We didn’t actively have any programs to even think about bringing wolves back,” Nye said. “It was just too contentious.”
Both Batcheller and Nye said wolves probably would migrate beyond the Adirondack Park to low-lying areas where deer are more plentiful. “That would immediately, of course, set up a problem for the animals in terms of people interactions,” Nye said.
Wolves are known to prey on livestock, and like other predators, they have a reputation for being dangerous to humans, even though only a handful of fatal wolf attacks have been recorded in North America.
Cristina Eisenberg, scientist for Earthwatch, an international nonprofit, lived in northern Montana and observed wolves recolonizing that area. “Wolves are not at all dangerous to humans in my experience,” she said.
“I’ve been around hundreds of wild wolves at very close range and they don’t see us as prey.”
“The only wolves that are dangerous, that have been documented attacking or killing people, are wolves that are habituated by humans to human food,” she added.
Even if DEC won’t reintroduce wolves, wildlife advocates are hopeful that someday the predators will recolonize the Adirondacks on their own. Over the years, there have been a number of reported wolf sightings, but physical evidence has generally been lacking. Scientists did confirm that a wild wolf was killed in Day, north of the Great Sacandaga Lake, in December 2001.
Wolf populations have rebounded and expanded out west. In the Great Lakes region—Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula—there are now 4,500 animals. And tens of thousands of wolves live in Canada.
“One of the amazing things about the past few years is all these animals—cougars or wolves or what have you—are just really showing us that their wildways do exist, these corridors, and most of these animals, they roam,” said Maggie Howell, executive director of the Wolf Conservation Center in downstate New York and coordinator of the Northeast Wolf Coalition, which was formed last year by scientists and environmental groups.
Wildlife advocates believe the wolf stands a better chance than the cougar of returning to the Adirondacks. Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park, which lies a couple of hundred miles to the northwest, has a few hundred wolves and even sponsors wolf howls for tourists. Wolves from Algonquin are the most likely to disperse to the Adirondacks, according to many observers. Nevertheless, there are obstacles.
“The eastern wolf is really close, but there is very aggressive hunting and trapping between here and Algonquin Park,” Howell said. In addition, wolves must cross numerous roads, including Highway 401 in southern Ontario, a fragmented landscape, and the St. Lawrence River.
Yet there is evidence that Canadian wolves can make it across the border. In addition to the animal killed in Day in 2001, two wolves were shot in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom in 1998 and 2006, presumably after migrating south from Quebec.
“And these are only the ones we know of because we killed them,” said Eisenberg, who is writing a book on eastern carnivore conservation. “From what I know, this is the tip of the iceberg, that there are many more that are making their way down, likely down from Canada, although some may be dispersing from the upper Midwest.”
Evidently, New York State has plenty of habitat and prey to support a wolf population. The Eastern Wolf Status Assessment Report, prepared for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011, concluded that “sizeable areas of potential wolf habitat exists in this state, especially in the area of the Adirondacks.” The report refers to several studies that reached the same conclusion, including one that estimated that the state could have supported up to 460 wolves in 2000.
If wolves do return to the Adirondacks, one concern is that hunters will mistake them for coyotes and shoot them. Like many states, New York has a liberal coyote-hunting season, lasting from fall to spring. Moreover, the state allows hunters to kill an unlimited number of coyotes and doesn’t require hunters to report their kills.
The Northeast Wolf Coalition argues that one reason DEC needs a wolf-recovery plan is to protect dispersing wolves from coyote hunters.
“There is evidence that wolves have attempted to naturally recolonize the region,” Howell said. “But because states in the region sanction policies that encourage the unregulated killing of canids, this evidence is in the form of dead wolves. New York needs a management plan to address the potential return of wolves, to promote wolf recovery, educate the public, and have a plan in place to protect wolves from being killed accidentally or intentionally.”
In the 2005 version of the state’s Wildlife Action Plan, which is being updated, DEC took more interest in the wolf. The report noted that wolves from Algonquin Park range to within fifty miles of the New York border. The report also discussed the need for surveying public opinion about wolf recovery, adding that identifying the wolf as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need “will facilitate the evaluation.” DEC never conducted the survey, and Racette said it is not a high priority now.
“It is possible that wolves will be able to naturally expand their range to New York from nearby populations in Canada, and if that does occur we will conduct outreach to help people learn how to coexist with wolves,” Racette told the Explorer.
Howell says the Northeast Wolf Coalition hopes to conduct its own survey, but she couldn’t provide any details because it’s still in the early planning stages.
Wildlife advocates contend that if wolves return, they will have a beneficial impact on the environment. “In pretty much any system where you have active predation, you will have higher biodiversity than in one where you don’t. This has been observed in oceans, coral reefs, savannahs, worldwide in many different types of ecosystems,” Eisenberg said.
Yet scientists debate what, exactly, the wolf’s ecological role would be and which wolf would fill it. Because canids interbreed, the wolf gene pool has become complicated. Algonquin Park has some gray wolves, which are also found in the Great Lakes region, but the majority of them are smaller eastern wolves, which may or may not be a separate species. In addition, the eastern coyote, which lives in the Adirondacks, has some wolf genes as a result of interbreeding.
“Wolf taxonomy right now is a mess,” Eisenberg said. “The experts don’t agree about what an eastern wolf is.” Indeed, it’s uncertain what wolf originally lived in New York State.
In the Adirondacks, hybridization would likely occur between dispersing eastern wolves and the resident coyotes, according to DEC biologist Jenny Murtaugh. In contrast, scientists believe that gray wolves, such as those in the Great Lakes, do not breed with coyotes in the wild and displace them instead.
“Thus, dispersing gray wolves from Quebec and Ontario may have a higher probability of avoiding genetic swamping from eastern coyotes and establishing a viable population in New York,” Murtaugh wrote for the forthcoming Wildlife Action Plan.
Steve Hall, the owner of the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, acknowledges that wolves may breed with coyotes in the Adirondacks, but he still argues that their presence would make the Park a wilder place.
“I don’t really go along with the idea that we have to have pure gray wolves, pure Canadian wolves,” Hall said. “We have an animal we call the coy-wolf, who is rather impressive and rather beautiful, and I think if we let wolves come back you’ll see larger coy-wolves.”
Hall said wolves would benefit the region economically, noting that tourists visit Algonquin Park, northern Minnesota, and Yellowstone Park to hear or see wolves.
In Yellowstone, where wolves were reintroduced in the mid-1990s, wolf tourism translates into $35 million a year in visitor spending, according to a 2006 report prepared for the Yellowstone Park Foundation.
Lake Placid resident Larry Master, a former chief zoologist for the Nature Conservancy and an Explorer board member, has visited Yellowstone Park to photograph wolves. “My god, I would love to hear wolf packs,” Master said. “People camp for weeks on end in late May, early June in camper vans with telescopes and spotting scopes with the hope of seeing a wolf, or wolf packs hunting. It’s an enormous economic boon for that area.”
Love, love your story here <3 <3 <3
Thanks for sharing!Nice to know their is some hope for these gorgeous creatures in your neck of the woods!
Even if there are no wolves in the Philippines. I greatly support the advocacy that the wolves of andirondacks return and multiply its population again.
Paul VanSlooten says
Love the story about the wolves here. I have a 2yr old boy that looks like the one you call Cree. We love him to death an he loves us. I would like to put a bite more weight on him but he only eats in the evening and never much at a time, any ideas for me
David Jarvis says
My boy Viking was raised by me (and his Mom, my former girlfriend who I made sure to have as his Alpha Mom). He was 195 lbs, loved cats (raised with them) but was a problem for large hoofed critters (like horses!)…destroyed the insides of the back seat of my BMW trying to get out when we were doing our monthly care of the horses and stables. We thought he wanted out to protect us…later came to find out it was LUNCH. He later got into trouble in upstate NY for killing a bunch of large hogs.
He was sold to me from the breeder as 1/4 dog. Later, it was proven that the other 1/4 was Mexican Wolf. He had a big head and was such a sweetheart and SO Smart!
In Connecticut, he would come in from the cold and hia cable for his nightly visit. First by the door he would empty the cat bowls of food then he had to check every room (3 story) then flop down on the living room rug with his big chew bone toy. He couldn’t stay long due to overheating. The cats would hang out on and around his big outdoor house. Amazing animal. I continued to have telepathic contact with him long after he left. He joined a group who took him to school visits. Loved him so much.
James Phelan says
The Alexander Archipelago wolf species of Alaska’s coast is small enough 20 to 50lbs to be accommodated in the Northeast and it is a denizen of deep forests
Chris Russell says
Sorry this is just too emotional and not rational enough.
We’ve all been to high school and therefore know that in nature there is always competition and conflict and each one has its enemy.
In the case of humans, those animals are rats and malaria mostquitos and many other species, including C. lupus.
We cannot be rationally expect to get along with wolves. Put it out of your mind, it’s never going to happen.
Jim Lahey says
Love it and i love animals i would keep them all in my basement were its nice cold and a fun place for animals and everyone.
Ellen Austin says
Hi, I just had the most unbelievable and unimaginable thing happen. I live in Canaan, Ny. I have a large chihuahua (1), a schnoodle(4) and a shiba inu (15). the latter two are medium height. On my walk out in the woods, a dog started barking, coming down the mountain and as it appeared I thought it was a German shepard. It was Dark grey,light grey and with some amber coloring. She kept barking. I immediately realized it was to me a wolf or wolf/coy. I had just finished watching some of my favorite Documentary’s on Wolve’s and one came to mind. this she wolf was protecting a den. She barked 4 to 5 calls every 20-30 seconds…and I knew she is calling the pack. I wanted out of those woods fast. None of my dogs were on leash, the chihuahua went in to go after the dog, the schnoodle paid attention and led the way on the trail, the shib-inu lagged 15 ft behind. The wolf was always darting in and out, parallel to us and ranging 12 ft. to 15 ft away on higher ground. It seemed eternity to get out, perhaps a half mile. we were all tired from the long hike, I called and shouted at the chi and he kept at the wolf, he went up countless times to run after her and would turn and run back to us but she be right back, barking. We quickened are pace even more, and the wolf seemed to want to attack the front dog, the schnoodle, perhaps to detain us from moving ahead, i kept yelling for all the dogs to keep going, calling out their names, we get to an intersection and my schnoodle and chihua go after her, I call and then we move even faster and faster towards the road. We get out and I go get my car and load schnoodle and chihuahua, but the shib inu who is old is still plodding along and finally appears. She is old and i dont think she heard a thing being very deaf. Not sure. Still I was so happy to be with all of them in the car. How could I avoided this? I have gone hiking with a male friend twice two weeks ago and nothing. Did the wolf just have the pups? and now she or a relative is on guard? What could I have done differently to protect myself? I am glad I kept a steady pace forward and perhaps yelling the dogs name kept her from harming us. I truly was worried. I thought omg, what if the pack comes, we won’t stand a chance. I have seen a coyote and this one was bigger, longer legs, snout, ears and body. i know it was a female so I can just imagine how big the male is. Are there wolves here? I believe there are. My area is full of wildlife and caves. This is the reason I hike here and live here. I truly feared for my life and my dogs lives. I can’t believe a chihuahua kept her at bay. He thinks he is a pit bull and in this circumstance he could of found out differently and paid with his life. I would love to hear back. Any info to help protect me in the future would be greatly appreciated. Thank you, Ellen
Eric Walters says
Hi, I believe my stepson and I saw a wolf on May 26th 2019 at the outlet of Sand Pond on the Croghan easement track. We were out turkey hunting. While moving to a different location we saw it out of the window of my truck. I even looked at it with binoculars. We got a good look of at least 30 seconds. I have been hunting for nearly 40 years and have seen many coyotes. I would say this wolf was at least 100 pounds and very healthy.
George Dieffenbacher says
Saturday Oct. 12th 2019 my 24 year old son and I were hiking along an abandoned rail bed in the southern Adirondaks. We entered a rather large swampy area just to explore it when I noticed a deer about 100yds ahead of us walking through the tall grass. I pointed it out to my son and he said “that’s no deer it’s a wolf”! Two seconds later it stepped out in the open and gave us a full view it’s fur was a reddish color that’s why I thought deer at first it’s size was about 4 1\2′-5’tall. You read that right 4 1/2-5’the grass we were in was up to my breast and his neck and head were above it i’m 6′. Suddenly another wolf this one all black with a white belly and the same huge size appeared next to the fist. A third was spotted milling around behind the first two not sure if there were others. We retrieved a pair of binoculars from my pack and watched them close for a couple minutes while they glared at us. We stood our ground until they finally slowly walked away stopping and turning to take a second and third look at us as they did. When it was clear we did a quick 2 miles out of there in the other direction they changed our course a little. We are not strangers to the outdoors we hunt fish camp and hike almost every weekend year round I’m 52yr old and have seen well over 100 coyote alive and dead and have in the last 6-7yrs seen a number of its big brother the coywolf. These guys were neither they were huge 100lbs plus easily. They had stepped in front of us directly down wind to get a sniff of what they had been watching/ hunting. I’m glad we didn’t have a dog or child with us they may have been more tempted. These dogs were spooky and very unnerving I have no use for them hiking just became less fun in that area. My son and I believe the Coywolf can fill the gap just fine. A local with a camp in the area said that others had spotted these wolves and that they have been howling for about a year. He no longer let’s his wife or daughters hike alone in that area. Had the wolves charged us it would have only been seconds before they were on us thare actions lead us to believe they were mulling it over.
Jeffery Jones says
I saw a Wolf today on Tupper Lake today 2/9/2020 around 230-300pm. It was on the lake south of Tupper Lake village off of Rt 30. It was out on the ice running and stopping at times. There was a few of us watching it from our vehicles. Thought I would let you know of this sighting