Thursday, August 25, 2022

Commentary: Time to bring back wolves

wolf

Wolf (Canis lupus) – captive. Larry Master photo

By Joseph S. Butera
The First Law of Ecology: Complexity brings forth stability:   The more complex an ecosystem is, the more  able  it is to withstand environmental stress.
 E.O. Wilson coined the phrase Bio-diversity, which is another way of saying of keeping an ecosystem more complex and healthy.
We all need to start thinking of ecosystems  as whole units, all the niches contributing to the workings of ecological systems as a whole and intact units of living things.
Predators play a key role in keeping the ecology healthy and complex, by removing the the less fit animals allowing the stronger more fit to survive. They also help control diseases which affect us, such as Chronic Wasting Disease, CWD, Lyme disease, mosquito-borne illnesses, and many others.
There is a fallacy that many people believe, that predators control the prey species.  It’s the other way around, the prey species control the number of predators.  What predators do is control the HEALTH of their prey species,  by making the prey stronger and more alert it makes it harder for hunters to kill their game animals.   I guess this means a hunter that  gets a deer in wolf country is just a more SKILLED hunter.
Ecology is a relationship among living organisms and between organisms and their environment. The word Ecology is derived from the greek word OIKOS, meaning house; therefore it is literally the study of our house, Planet Earth.  By removing all the predators… life will cease to exist!  It’s just a fact!!
 The last reported  wolf killed in New York state was back in 1896. It wasn’t until 1993  when the next identified wild wolf was shot and killed by a hunter in the Adirondacks.   In December of 2021, a wild wolf was shot and killed  in Central New York and DNA testing  confirmed it was 99.8% wolf!
Eleven wolves have been killed in New York state and or the northeast since 1993.  Some believe  more wolves have been killed in the northeast going back to 1980’s,   if they were wild we will never know.    How many more wild wolves have been killed and  not reported to conservation offices, organizations and  or government agencies.   Sad!
Regardless,   many other wolves killed  could have been wild wolves which means wolf habitat  exists and wolf dispersal is happening.  The NYSDEC along with the other conservation agencies in the northeast must develop wolf conservation plans to help protect these ecologically important canids.
 The NYSDEC  needs to educate hunters NOT to shot large canids  Theses state agencies  should be handing out pamphlets with every hunting ticket sold, explaining that wolves are not to be shot at anytime.  The February killing contest also need to needs to be abolished!  Killing as many coyotes as one wishes and going for the biggest animals is  a 1920’s mentally and needs to end,  not to  mention that  wolves are also bing being  killed in the process.
For God-sake, NYSDEC have no  interest in restoring elk back into  New York’s forest because of fear of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  If they would understand the laws of ecology’s predatory/prey relationship, the DEC would understand with wolves present CWD would not be able to take hold of  the unguent population.
Wolves and other large predators tend to take the sick and older animals, CWD  manifests itself  very slowly in deer, elk moose. Wolves  would take down these slower weaker  animals, and the wolf is  asymptomatic to the disease.
Wolves are deemed wild or domesticated through a process known as nitrogen=(N), and or carbon=(C)  Isotope analysis.   Scientists try to determine which foods  an animal  may  have been eating by detecting the amount of  nitrogen/carbon  in the animals tissues & bones.  In a addition  to tissue and bones analysis, there are other tests which scientists check for such as, teeth, nails, fur, and there are other tests  as well.
The theory behind nitrogen isotopes testing, foods grown with nitrogen fertilizers, this nitrogen  is  passed down into the plants tissue,  passing the (N) atoms as isotopes onto the animals who consumed these food.   Foods rich in (N) would be, grains, wheat, corn, soy beans, carrots and other Farm grown foods.
Animals  fed  commercially produced foods like Pet foods and  such produces as  corn, carrots, potatoes etc retain this mineral. (N).   I often wonder how many black bears in the northeast have a high content of nitrogen isotopes in their tissue and bones. Because of the foods scrapes  they consume.  Carnivores feeding on wild game such as deer, moose ,rabbits, etc, would have more of a concentration of carbon isotopes.
  But, this is where it gets interesting!  Although the NYSDEC clams many of these wolves are not wild because of the nitrogen isotope contents in  some of their tissues.    It is still possible for wild wolves to have a higher than normal concentration of nitrogen in their body  tissues.
 Many people in the northeast feed wildlife such as deer, black bear, raccoons, and the  foods  they are  feeding these animals are  commercially made  Pet foods and table scraps  left outside by  pet owners.   Many of these foods are  made-up of meats,  corn, carrots and other grains all high in (N).   People feeding deer and other animals corn, carrots, and other grains   would explain why some of these wolves killed in the NE would have higher  nitrogen isotopes in their body tissues.
  I’m sure if one was to test wild black bears in New York State many  would have higher nitrogen isotopes  in their body tissue, the same as any wildlife feeding from humans leftover dinners and or Pet foods.
I personally believes wild wolves have been coming south  into New York State from Canada and the Great Lakes region for many years, only to be killed by coyote hunters, such as the recent animal killed in December of 2021.  How sad it is that governmental agencies are doing nothing to protect wolves coming into NYS.
  I had a friend in the northern Adirondacks who told back in  early 1990’s that there were two  wolves  coming to his property.   My  friend  feed these wolves,  black bears and other critters dog food and leftover food scraps rich in nitrogen.   Back then I did not totally believe they were wolves, but in retrospect I think they where.
Minnesota’s hunting community are a breed of their own, sportsmen  see all aspects of wildlife as important, including their predator population.  Perhaps this is because  wolves in the northern parts of the state have always been part of the hunting ecology. The Minnesota’s Department of Environmental Conservation see wolves as a natural resource.   Not all hunters have the same feeling about wolves but the majority do! I also believe the hunting community see that when wolves are present, the state is not burdened with Chronic Wasting Disease in their ungulate population.
The big question going forward, will the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation do what is needed to support the natural recolonization of wolves into New York state.   I believe the public  would welcome these large canids back into the wilds of our state.  Many younger and some older sportsman’s support the return of this majestic animal, let’s tell our political leaders that we support the wolf’s return.
Joseph S. Butera is president and co-founder of the Northeast Ecological Recovery Society
Wolf (Canis lupus) photo by Larry Master

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The Adirondack Almanack publishes occasional guest essays from Adirondack residents, visitors, and those with an interest in the Adirondack Park. Submissions should be directed to Almanack editor Melissa Hart at editor@adirondackalmanack.com




47 Responses

  1. Eric says:

    After a couple of well publicized wolf attacks on hikers then maybe I’ll finally be able to get a parking spot at the Garden.

  2. Gary Hartwick says:

    No thanks. There are far too many people. Put the wolves in Alaska or northern Canada where they would be safer.

    • AG says:

      What do you mean “put the wolves”? They are already in Alaska and Canada. Wolves are expanding in Europe which is far more crowded. This is the 21st century… Humans are more knowledgeable about how ecosystems work now.

  3. Fisherking says:

    The 501c3 carrying capacity of the Adiirondacks has reached it’s limit. The impact upon the people’s will by duly-elected governmental bodies will be devastating.

  4. James Marco says:

    Wolves can be dangerous. While I agree with most of your ECO reasoning, your conclusion is not correct. For example, preditors and prey rely on each other. One does not dominate some area without paying the price elsewhere. Neither is dominant, rather it is a good example of symbiosis. How can I trust your conclusions when your base facts are not correct?

  5. geogymn says:

    The caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf who keeps the caribou strong.

    Keewatin Eskimo Saying

  6. Melissa says:

    Thanks for sticking your neck out and writing this article. I agree that NYDEC has not done enough to protect predators. In fact they favor hunters who think that if all the predators are eliminated there will be better deer hunting (not all hunters think like this but many do). I have been working on trying to show the hunters who hunt my property and my neighbors that predators (here in Albany means coyotes) are essential in keeping deer population healthy and at level that our properties can sustain without damage to our growing woodlands. It’s an uphill battle. Several years ago my neighbor hired someone to kill a coyote pair that he believed would attack his pets. I watched this pair for two years hunting mice in my neighbor’s field, his pets were never attacked. I was devastated when he told me he had them killed. Thankfully I have since converted him that coyotes had value to his fields and woodlands.

  7. William says:

    Your assertion that CWD could be controlled by wolves is fantasy. You want wolves back, I get it. You would be better off arguing they are fluffy and cute than trying to convince people they can control the CWD. If this were true Wyoming, Montana and Idaho would not have the CWD problem that they do. Research prions a little bit, like more than a 5 minute google search. Maybe wolves could control the winter tick problem that moose endure too?

    • Jon Way says:

      Actually predators like wolves and mountain lions are very effective to slow or limit diseases like CWD. They target weaker prey that have abnormalities like disease. The problem is that state wildlife agencies don’t recognize this because they are hunter biased and kill wolves and or don’t let them live at ecologically effective densities.

      • William says:

        Jon, I agree that this is true with many diseases. CWD however has an 18-24 month incubation period from infection to onset of the debilitating symptoms. During this up to two year period the otherwise healthy deer will spread it. The wolf or coyote that eventual brings the sick animal down did nothing to control the spread of CWD. For the record, I am ambivalent on wolf reintroduction. Stating it will help control CWD is simply not true.

  8. LeRoy Hogan says:

    I know wolves being back in Yellowstone has been a good thing.

    • Boreas says:

      LeRoy,

      This is largely true. However YNP is just that – a National Park with no farmers, landowners, or even residents. Human pressures within the Park are mostly limited to roads, parking lots, trails and lodges/campgrounds. Once on private land outside of the Park, apex predators become problematic and must endure the persecution that has been predominant for centuries. So while we know much more about predator/prey relationships since their re-introduction in YNP, it is a microcosm, and not currently likely to be adopted on private lands. We have a lot of soul-searching to do as a species before we begin to relinquish our perceived “dominion” over Nature.

  9. Boreas says:

    I won’t go into detail, but there are several assertions in the essay that are unlikely to pass scientific scrutiny. But I do believe the author had the overall gestalt of predator/prey relationships in mind when writing the article. While complex, it is true that predator/prey relationships are an important aspect of any food chain. While it is difficult to tease out specific details of these relationships, it has been done with enough frequency to at least illustrate the need for apex predators in a healthy, balanced ecosystem.

    Humans have arrogantly deemed themselves a worthy replacement for apex predators in modern ecosystems, despite not placing pressures on prey species in the same way as true predators can. Humans do not target the young, sick, and elderly individuals as predators do. Human “predation” (hunting, road-kills, habitat changes) is more random and tends to target strong and healthy individuals in a population. While this can keep the population in what we consider “adequate” numbers, it in no way ensures a healthy prey population. It could even be postulated that modern human-style “predation” could have deleterious effects on the pressures that drive evolution over time.

    Because humans have damaged natural ecosystems worldwide, we need to become more careful and insightful into HOW we attempt to right our wrongs. There is little doubt that humans are necessary to help restore more natural ecosystems if we intend to remain self-appointed “overlords” of the Earth and Nature, but we should not ignore the obvious teachings and principles of Nature and natural systems that have been fine-tuned and re-tuned over several billion years.

    While I don’t think New Yorkers are currently ready to share our world with historical apex predators after several centuries of systematically persecuting them, we do need to at least be considering our mistakes and how to bring balance back to the Adirondack Park and other areas set aside as “natural” areas. We need to research the possibility of opening up corridors throughout the country where imbalances of predator/prey populations can be naturally balanced to keep our corner of the globe more resilient to known and unknown stresses to come in the future. Allowing and encouraging the wandering of these key species through “our” area is crucial in the resiliency of the ecosystem.

  10. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “We all need to start thinking of ecosystems as whole units, all the niches contributing to the workings of ecological systems as a whole and intact units of living things”

    > They ‘were’ whole units at one time, now they are mere, parceled fragments of what they used to be which is a continuing process, until at last…. they slowly die off, or become weakened so as not to be able to put up a defense had they been left intact and healthy ecosystems. What with the way things are going, even if they were still able to put up a defense they probably wont be able to fend off the monsters to come, especially regards global warming, aka the planet cooking. Already we are seeing the effects of such, yet…..”It’s a liberal hoax!” or, “We must keep the economy going!”

    Our leaders just don’t get it! They never will! And then there’s the ignorant populace who will never see the forest for the trees. Never! The moments are all we have! Savor them!

  11. Mike says:

    As soon as wooly mammoths are successfully cloned, they also should be introduced to the Adirondacks since native Americans hunted them to extinction.

  12. Charlie Stehlin says:

    “Human “predation” (hunting, road-kills, habitat changes) is more random and tends to target strong and healthy individuals in a population.”

    Reminds me of the young road-kill coon I pushed out of the road yesterday on Rt. 20 just east of Carlisle; or the immature fox I pushed off of Rt. 20 in Guilderland about a month ago….never mind all of the coons and possums I pass by nearly on a daily basis. I saw a baby woodchuck get hit just in front of me a few years back. The driver in front of me didn’t even slow down, just mowed it down and kept going. I stopped as this woodchuck, fresh into the world, was jerking its body all over the road. It was in shock I suppose. I picked it up and it died in my hands, I took it home and buried it.

  13. Charlie Stehlin says:

    Speaking of successfully cloning: I’d be all for allowing the exhumation of Henry David Thoreau from his grave at Sleepy Hollow and retrieving DNA from his remains so that his simplistic, brilliant, enlightened genes can be inserted into maternal wombs the world over so as to begin planting the seeds for the possible beginnings of the Utopian society which has eluded us since Adam & Eve. To think if more of us thought like Thoreau…..his high regard for living things, for living the simple life, etc. There are so many others whose remains could be exhumed for this or that superior trait in their DNA. We can mix DNA in a hodgepodge sort of way with this or that sample taken from Thoreau and whomever. I can think of dozen-lots of souls right off the bat whose minds were of the cosmic consciousness kind.

  14. JC says:

    The Adirondacks may look like the wide open spaces to city slickers, but they are not compared to the ranch lands and mountains of the west where I used to live. There are numerous small farms and rural homes scattered throughout the Adirondacks that have livestock. That is part of living in the country. No livestock owner needs a predator as large as a wolf to worry about killing their animals. There is a big difference between a wolf and a coyote. I saw this first hand a few decades ago when we had friends visiting us from western Canada. In their empty livestock trailer they had 2 pet wolves. We kept our dog in the house all day as they took the wolves out for walks on leashes. They pretty much looked like german shepherd or husky crosses but larger than a coyote. All went well until it started to get dark and our dog barked. All of a sudden the wolves began to howl. I was in the barn feeding the horses and the horses went berserk, bouncing off walls. The mare I was feeding sort of froze and her eyes rolled back and she had the strangest look. In the meantime our donkeys had just been let out of the pasture and they made a beeline for the trailer and the wolves. They repeatedly attacked the trailer, trying to get in and kill the wolves. I had never seen this behavior from our horses or donkeys in responding to coyotes. We would often see coyotes foraging for mice around the horses while the horses were eating round bales and they pretty much ignored the coyotes. The coyote howls never seemed to bother them. The reactions of both types of livestock to the wolves makes me think that wolves in any numbers, especially in packs, will cause great worry and perhaps chaos to what were peaceful small farming operations located in areas of the Adirondacks where the wolves hang out. A few years after our vsit I asked my friends how the wolves were doing. They no longer had them as the female got loose and killed 250 of the neighborr’s turleys in one night.

    No doubt many of the wolves would be shot either by macho gun owners that want to brag to their friends that they had shot a wolf, or their excuse to DEC would be that they thought it was a coyote.

  15. hilary says:

    a really stupid idea that many have raised in the past..

  16. Joseph Van Gelder says:

    I run my rabbit hounds all winter. Coyotes have become a huge problem attacking and killing beagles chasing hares. Wolves will make that problem MUCH worse. Please let me know you feel after they kill a few of your dogs.

  17. geogymn says:

    No mention of the over abundance of fauna consuming the native flora. The forest is ailing, attacked from many angles. Methinks the dogs and the livestock will prevail as long as we humans prevail. But will the human prevail without the trees? Would we want to?

  18. JC says:

    I remember back around 1980 there were articles in the Glens Falls newspaper about DEC releasing a half dozen wolves near Warrensburg or nearby. The wolves did not stay in the woods but hung out near the Northway and people could see the pack from the highway. Some were run over, some were shot and some disappeared. How come this is never mentioned. Has the story purposely been buried? I wonder if they hung out there due to easy meals from roadkill. Remember the Northway was called the smorgasborg for crows.

  19. Brittany Lagaly says:

    Well said! It’s insane to think an ecosystem can be healthy with no top predators.

  20. Brittany Lagaly says:

    Also, to those complaining about coyotes, the only reason we have coyotes in the east is that we killed all the wolves, who naturally regulate their populations. If you want fewer coyotes, bring the wolves back.

  21. Dana says:

    I guess I will need to build a new house out of bricks. My stick house was built after big, bad, wolves had been methodically killed off. Who would have thought they would have the nerve to show up here again?! Grandmothers living in the woods – BEWARE!

  22. JC says:

    Previous studies I have seen on reintroducing wolves discussed the belief by various wildlife experts that timber wolves, the kind proposed to be introduced here, were never native to the Northeast. Instead a smaller type similar to the red wolf of the southern US was the native kind found here. Unless you want to go back to the dire wolf. That might be why the coyote is so successful here, since it is similar in size and habits to the red wolf.
    This is one more issue to challege DEC with in their proposals to bring in timber (grey) wolves. Sometimes it appears that DEC is trying to reinvent the wheel by disregarding older studies and historical information.

    • Boreas says:

      It is kinda silly to consider re-introducing any ancient species into a dramatically altered ecosystem and expecting them to succeed as if nothing happened. Even if we could perfectly copy the fauna from a random point in time (what time would we choose??), they would not be introduced to the ecosystem that they EVOLVED into. People mistakenly think of the Adirondacks as a vast forest, but it is FAR from that. It is a patchwork of many land types, settlements, and roads that would never evolve together in nature.

      Unless we are planning on removing people, roads, and settlements from the Park, it is likely better to speed up evolution rather than adding/subtracting vertebrate species like a cookbook. Perhaps instead of re-introducing “pure” grey wolves, DEC should consider simply adding more wolf genes to the existing coy/wolf population in NY with selective breeding – basically speeding up what has already happened. Perhaps this newer hybrid would target larger prey and better adapt to the patchwork habitat that exists now, while avoiding the possibility of wolves pushing coyotes out of much of the Park, while humans persecute both.

      However I think we need to accept that wolves HAVE returned, but in the form of hybrids, not pure forms. Smaller, and likely more adaptable to the current and future state of the Park’s habitat. I personally don’t feel anything should be “done” by DEC to reintroduce historical species to a dramatically altered landscape. But if we stop persecuting wild canids, wolf genes will distribute themselves throughout sections of the coy/wolf population in a way that will fit better with the habitat at hand.

      • Steve B. says:

        Some wisdom in this, but there are already examples of wolf re-introduction into regions that have been modified by human presence, Yellowstone and western New Mexico come to mind. The wolf population in Yellowstone has done very well, while NM has been a struggle, with some success. Could it happen in the Daks ?, I question whether the deer and moose population is large enough to support a viable population. Certainly there is enough space, but we do not want conflicts with farmers, which might happen on the periphery of the park. Probably a more viable region for re-introduction would be the North Maine Woods, which is less sparsely settled than NY and has a larger moose population.

        • Boreas says:

          Steve,

          Yes, Yellowstone has been modified by humans but it isn’t divided into a mish-mash of land usage types – including farming, ranching, villages, and residences – all with different priorities. And importantly, there is no hunting/trapping pressure unless animals stray from the Park.

          As far as ungulate populations, there is likely enough to maintain a pack or two, but they aren’t going to be able to stay in a particular valley or drainage like in YNP. They will need to be able to wander around the Park when prey in one area becomes scarce. This would be problematic for many reasons – most obvious as you mention, and others more subtle. While moose typically stick to remote areas, deer stick close to human habitation. We already see the persecution of coy/wolves, and I believe there would be even more persecution of wolves near settled areas – even despite protection. And this doesn’t even take into account the potential loss of alpha males and females randomly killed on highways. Losses of these individuals severely harms pack health and dynamics.

          I agree that northern Maine would likely be a better area to attempt an actual wolf reintroduction if ungulate populations can be maintained. But pressures from disease and climate change may negatively affect those populations in the not so distant future.

          • Steve B. says:

            Possibly the most serious threat to the Mexican wolf introduction in NM and AZ has been less then helpful ranchers, who shoot wolves whenever they see them, often times with few repercussions. I see that happening in NY should they attempt re-introduction.

            • AG says:

              This is not about reintroduction… It’s about the fact that wolves have tried to recolonize naturally but keep getting killed because there is indiscriminate hunting of “eastern coyotes” aka “coywolves”. If humans stopped shooting any wild canine wolves would have returned to NY on their own. This is not the first wild wolf killed publicly in the past 2 decades.

    • AG says:

      This is not talking about reintroducing. It is talking about animals naturally returning. They can’t because they keep getting killed. Also these are not “real” coyotes. These coyotes are mixed with wolves. They are bigger than normal coyotes but function more like coyotes than real wolves. There is a difference.

      • Dana says:

        The title is literally, “Time To Bring Back Wolves”.

        • AG says:

          Reading a headline and not the substance of of the body is a problem in society. For what the writer “literally” said:

          “The NYSDEC needs to educate hunters NOT to shot large canids Theses state agencies should be handing out pamphlets with every hunting ticket sold, explaining that wolves are not to be shot at anytime….. The big question going forward, will the New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation do what is needed to support the natural recolonization of wolves into New York state.”

          • Boreas says:

            I agree. However the title and the body reflect two different ideas. “Bringing” back wolves suggests an active program – as in re-introduction. “Allowing” wolves to return on their own without being persecuted as they have been in the past is a different idea. I agree the title does not accurately describe the content. But indeed, the title remains, and comments on reintroduction should be considered as germane as comments on natural returns. Granted, two different ideas, but still two germane ideas.

  23. Georgia Davison says:

    OMG !!!!! Here we go again with HORRENDOUS proofreading and editing of an article. Does anyone with Adirondack Almanack actually know the correct usage of the English language? There are at least 21 errors in this article, including simple spelling and punctuation mistakes, as well as repeated words (one after another). Somebody at Adirondack Almanack needs to learn how to proofread the articles that get published here. I am disgusted every time I read these poorly edited articles.

  24. Meg says:

    Anyone that can willingly kill a wild animal for sport or so called hunting has no soul. To take the life of an innocent being is not only reckless but unnecessary. Mother Earth has lost enough without losing that which is crucial for her survival. If she can’t survive then neither do we.

    • Joseph Van Gelder says:

      I never understood this. I hunt and fish for my own food. I eat venison grouse and hare. I catch and eat bass and trout why does that mean I have no soul?

      • JohnL says:

        Don’t question it Joseph. If Meg says you and I, and by extension, all hunters and fisher persons, have no soul….we have no soul. Meg is the arbiter of all things relating to our personal righteousness, right/wrong in general, etc etc.

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