Coalition to Declare: Do More for Wolves

gray wolf, similar to the eastern coyote
Gray wolf, canis lupus. Photo courtesy of the US Fish and Wildlife Service/J&K Hollingsworth

The group presents DEC with a 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 coming into 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. The results of that test were published 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 people representing state and national organizations, calls for four actions from the DEC.

  1. The group wants the DEC to acknowledge the wolf kill in Otsego County and for potential additional wolves to be able to return to the state.
  2. Ask DEC to keep wolves on the state’s endangered species list and to enforce the law that prohibits the killing of endangered animals.
  3. He wants the department to ban or restrict eastern coyote hunting and educate hunters on the differences between wolves and coyotes. Differentiating a wolf from an eastern coyote can be tricky because eastern coyotes are known to have significant amounts of wolf genes.
  4. The letter calls on the state to protect lands that serve as wildlife corridors to help wolves return. Various scientific studies over the years have determined that the Adirondacks have 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 may 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 like Algonquin Provincial Park. The murders, 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 DEC’s past actions, including the proposal to remove protections for the wolf in 2019 in the state wildlife action plan, during a period in which federal protections had been removed.

“It’s kind of a signal to us that DEC is not really interested in gray wolf recovery in the state,” Seacor told Explorer. “They practically consider them extirpated and don’t see the potential for their return.”

Wolves are on the state’s endangered species list due to their historic status.

Currently, state protections are in place and must remain so as long as federal protection remains in place, but there is no recovery plan for the animal.

The Explorer did not request a specific response to this letter from DEC. However, Dan Rosenblatt, who heads the department’s wildlife diversity unit, told the Explorer earlier this week that the DEC is still in the process of determining whether the dead canid is actually a wolf.

He said state-commissioned DNA testing conducted by the Wildlife Genetics Institute at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania determined the animal’s mother was an eastern coyote.

The DEC has not yet released the DNA results of that test even though Explorer filed a Freedom of Information Act request in August.

Either way, those results would contradict findings from the Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Center at Trent University in Ontario, which found the animal to be 98% wolf. That analysis determined the animal to be 52.6% Great Lakes wolf, 34.5% Northwest Territories wolf and 10.9% Eastern wolf. The remaining 2% was a mixture of coyote and dog genes.

Since then, both wildlife advocates and the DEC have sent DNA samples to Princeton University for further testing.

If Princeton scientists determine the animal is a wolf, the DEC plans to do additional testing to determine whether the animal was wild or captive, Rosenblatt said.

“If it is determined that we are starting to have natural movement of animals, it would certainly have some influence (on the state wildlife action plan),” he said. “But if it looks like the animal has a domestic background, it probably wouldn’t sway it much.”

But he indicated that either way there would be obstacles to the wolves coming back because wolves are 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 habitat loss due to logging. With the great predator gone, coyote populations took their place in New York.

DEC plans to have updated species assessment drafts of wolves and other endangered animals by 2024 status for public review. The state’s wildlife action plan must be updated by August 2025.

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