An Adirondack environmental group has asked the state Department of Environmental Conservation to consider reintroducing wolves and cougars in its State Wildlife Action Plan, which is currently in draft form and expected to be finished later this year.
“We cannot rely on natural recolonization for cougars from the west,” Peter Bauer, director of Protect the Adirondacks, wrote in a July 14 letter to the DEC. “Aggressive hunting seasons are starting to reduce the overall populations and it’s unrealistic to think that enough males and females will reach the Adirondacks to establish a viable population. New York leaders should take a hard look at reintroduction of cougars to the Adirondack Park.
“Wolves are also highly unlikely to recolonize a viable breeding population in the Adirondacks. Given the tremendous success at reintroducing wolves to Yellowstone national park, New York leaders should take a hard look at reintroduction of wolves to the Adirondack Park.”
Bauer’s letter comes weeks after the organization received a presentation on the subject at its annual meeting by Chris Spatz, president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation. Spatz and his organization are strongly behind the reintroduction of these two animals in the Adirondack Park, saying the Park’s ecosystem and economy could benefit from their presence. Both animals are considered keystone species whose impacts are felt throughout the ecosystem. Spatz and other wildlife advocates have also said that the Park’s economy could benefit by the animals because they would attract wildlife enthusiasts to the area. For instance, places like Algonquin Park in Ontario and Eli, Minnesota, have regular tours for listening to howling wolves.
The closest population of wolves to the Adirondacks is believed to be in Algonquin Park, while cougars have been spotted as far east as the Upper Pennisula in Michigan, where they are considered by most scientists to be dispersers from Midwestern populations in states such as South Dakota and Nebraska.
Reports of wolf and cougar sightings in the Adirondacks are relatively common, although most are believed to be cases of mistaken identities. Bobcats are mistaken for cougars and coyotes are mistaken for wolves. However, many scientists says the possibility of lone dispersers being spotted here is possible. Neither species is believed to have a breeding population here.
At this time, DEC has no interest in reintroducing wolves or cougars to the state. Gordon Batcheller, DEC’s chief wildlife biologist, told the Adirondack Explorer previously that the department lacks the staff and funding to reintroduce or aid the recovery of large predators. 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,” Batcheller 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.”
The State’s Wildlife Action Plan serves as a “state’s guiding document for managing and conserving species and habitats before they become too rare or costly to restore,” according to the DEC website. “Congress charged states and territories to develop a State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP) in 2002. Collectively, these plans assess the health of a state’s wildlife and habitats, identify the problems they face and outline the actions that are needed to conserve them over the long term.”
Some Adirondack species contained in the action plan are Bicknell’s thrush, spruce grouse and several species of bats.
Past versions of New York’s wildlife plan have included extirpated species such as wolves and cougars. This one currently doesn’t. Public comments on the proposed plan were received until July 17.
Photo by Mike Lynch: A domesticated wolf at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge in Wilmington.