Tuesday, September 20, 2022

38 Groups Call On NYSDEC To Protect Wolves in New York

wolves

The plot thickens around the killing of an 85-pound wolf near Cooperstown in December of 2021 and the response by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Under state and federal law, a wolf that wanders into New York State is protected under the Endangered Species Act. The wolf shot near Cooperstown by a coyote hunter clearly enjoyed no such protections.

On September 15th, 38 groups signed a letter to DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos “to take immediate action to increase protections for wolves potentially dispersing through and recolonizing the Northeast, including the state of New York.” This letter shows that there is wide consensus among environmental organizations and wildlife advocates that the DEC botched its response to the killing of the Cooperstown wolf and needs to do much more to protect wolves that come into New York.

New York State administers a 6-month-long open hunting season on coyotes. This year it runs from October 1, 2022 to March 26, 2023. Coyotes can be trapped or shot. There is no limit on the number of coyotes a hunter can kill in a day or a season. This part of New York State’s hunting laws would fit right in with the Idaho Fish and Game Department. This program has long been controversial, but DEC says the program helps to somehow limit the coyote population and protect the state’s deer herd.

The problem with the DEC’s approach is that it is well established in the scientific literature that coyotes regulate their reproduction. If their population is under threat, coyotes produce more offspring. Higher hunting just produces more coyotes, which produces more coyote hunting, which produces more coyotes, and so it goes.

After social media posts of Cooperstown wolf were circulated among the hunting community, some of whom were wolf recovery activists, many features in the photographs of the dead 85-pound canid appeared to be wolf-like. The size of the animal, the size of its paws, the size of its head, its weight reported at over 80 pounds, and its color all pointed to a wolf, not simply a really big coyote.

The Northeast Ecological Recovery Society (NERS) contacted the hunter and asked if they could obtain a sample from the animal for a DNA test. There had been confirmed wolves in New York and the Northeast US in recent years, but this was one in real time. NERS contacted groups in its network, such as Protect the Adirondacks, about the incident. There was broad agreement to pursue a DNA test and Protect the Adirondacks paid for it. A sample was obtained over the winter and sent out for processing to the Natural Resources DNA Profiling & Forensic Centre in Ontario, Canada, a leading wildlife DNA testing facility.

The DNA analysis was completed in July 2022 and concluded that this animal was a combination of Great Lakes, Northwest Territory, and Eastern gray wolf genetic composition, all subspecies of Canis lupus. The report further concluded that the genetic makeup of the animal was approximately 98% Canis lupus. The report’s Executive Summary stated “The sample submitted yielded sufficient DNA to allow for genetic assignment among Canadian Canis categories in context of an in-house reference database. The sample was of an admixed nature predominated by Great Lakes wolf ancestry.”

After this report was released, DEC spokesperson, Lori Severino stated that in the DEC’s view this wolf was a coyote. Albany News 10 reported:

ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) – After a DNA test released Tuesday, July 26, confirmed that an animal shot last December in the Greater Capital Region was a gray wolf, the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) said otherwise. “Initial DNA analysis conducted determined the wild canid to be most closely identified as an eastern coyote,” said Lori Severino, a spokesperson for the DEC.

New York’s eastern coyote population, said Severino, has been shown to have a mix of coyote, wolf, and domestic dog genetics, as is the case with the DNA of this animal. DNA tests vary based on the method each lab is using and how results are interpreted by individual scientists, she said.

“As New York’s eastern coyote population has been shown to have a mix genetics, further testing is being conducted to provide more clarity of the genetic composition of this animal,” concluded the DEC spokesperson.

In July, the DEC did not provide any reports or evidence to support its assertion. Mike Lynch at the Adirondack Explorer has been on top of this story with two key articles, the first in July, and the second in September.

The coyote hunter who shot the Cooperstown wolf contacted the DEC right away. DEC took samples of the animal for a DNA study and told the hunter that the animal was a coyote. DEC has not released its DNA analysis, though it referenced these reports in the media, like the report above. Under Freedom of Information Act laws (FOIA) such research and analysis should be freely available to the public. Protect the Adirondacks promptly submitted a FOIA request for this report, as did news media outlets, and researchers and other organizations. Though this report is sitting on a desk or as PDF in a computer, or many computers, at the DEC, it has not been released. Stonewalling Freedom of Information requests hardly shows an agency that is open, transparent, and serving the public’s right to know. Commissioner Basil Seggos should intervene today and release the DEC’s DNA analysis on the Cooperstown wolf.

The DEC announced recently that it had sent out additional samples from the Cooperstown wolf to Princeton University for further DNA analysis. The groups monitoring this issue have done the same. The additional independent analyses should be completed by the end of the year.

There is concern that the DEC will use additional DNA testing to reach for novel ways to discredit the need to protect wolves by arguing that the wolf killed had been raised in captivity and escaped or was released. One test will be to examine tissue for radioisotopes. This inquiry allows researchers to assess the diet of the animal, thus looking for food that may have been commonly eaten during captivity versus food eaten in the wild. There are some problems with this approach. A wolf could kill a deer that ate a lot of corn, either found in fields or provided by people who feed deer. Wolves could eat other small mammals or rodents that forage in the backyards of human residences. Corn radioisotopes alone are hardly proof that an animal is captive or wild, but we should all expect to hear more about that in the months ahead.

Longstanding, viable wolf populations exist in Canada about 100 miles from the northern parts of Adirondack Park. Resident wolf populations in Alqonquin Park, about 250 miles away, regularly produce wolves that leave the Park and wander throughout eastern Canada. Wolves have been documented to wander far and wide. Though the trek is hazardous from Canada to the Adirondacks, winding through a maze of highways, intensely developed areas, and permissive hunting laws, wolves have been documented in the past making this journey to New York or other Northeast states.

The letter from 38 organizations to Commissioner Seggos called for four important actions by the DEC. First, it’s important, based on the scientific evidence, that the DEC acknowledges that the Cooperstown wolf was indeed a wolf and that other wolves, given nearby populations, could arrive in the state. Second, wolves should be kept on the NYS Endangered Species List and the DEC should enforce laws that prohibit their killing. 3) DEC needs to do more the educate coyote hunters about the presence of wolves. Research has long shown that the coyote population in New York is a hybrid with high percentages of wolf genes. 4) The DEC needs to do more to protect open spaces that are suitable for wolf reclamation and restoration.

The New York State “Wildlife Action Plan” was last updated in 2015. The plan is updated every 10 years. Past iterations of the plan called on the DEC to study the restoration of wolves, which never happened. The current plan does not include a focus on returning extirpated species. The plan states “DEC chose not to include extirpated large carnivore species as Species of Greatest Conservation Need in order to focus conservation resources on resident species that currently have a population at risk in New York.”

There’s certainly more to this story, that’s likely to unfold in the months ahead.

UPDATE: The 2nd independent DNA analysis mentioned above is complete. The report concludes that the Cooperstown wolf “sample carries a combined 97.8% gray wolf (C. lupus) ancestry with nearly all of that derived from gray wolves of the Great Lake and only 1.4% identified as Eastern wolf (C. lycaon).”

Click here to read the new DNA analysis.

UPDATE 2: The NYSDEC released its DNA study (finally) on September 21st after a new report from Adirondack Explorer reporter Mike Lynch. Click here for the DEC’s DNA report. Click here for Lynch’s new article. Of the DEC DNA report, Lynch writes, it “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.”

Based on this report that says the Cooperstown wolf was 65.2% wolf, the DEC says it was coyote.

Photo: Wolf (Canis lupus) – captive. Larry Master photo

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Peter Bauer is the Executive Director of Protect the Adirondacks.He has been working in various capacities on Adirondack Park environmental issues since the mid-1980s, including stints as the Executive Director of the Residents' Committee to Protect the Adirondacks and FUND for Lake George as well as on the staff of the Commission on the Adirondacks in the Twenty-First Century. He also worked at Adirondack Life Magazine. He served as Chair of the Town of Lake George Zoning Board of Appeals and has served on numerous advisory boards for management of the Adirondack Park and Forest Preserve. Peter lives in Blue Mountain Lake with his wife and two children, enjoys a wide variety of outdoor recreational activities throughout the Adirondacks, and is a member of the Blue Mountain Lake volunteer fire department.Follow Protect the Adirondacks on Facebook and Twitter.


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58 Responses

  1. Alan G West says:

    I have been an Adirondack trapper for more than 50 years. During that time I have caught several eastern coyotes. Those animals looked very much like the Alqonquin wolves that I saw in Ontario in my youth.
    I am well aware of the variety of mixtures; dog, coyote, wolf, that make up the genetics of today’s animals.
    How can I distinquish between a coyote from a wolf? Paw size, weight, width of the head?How is a trapper or hunter to know? To give protection to a species that was eliminated with good reason is not a good idea.
    Eastern coyotes are already predatory threat to small game and deer, and there lots of them. To protect wolves may be a good idea to some , but all I need to do is point out the great damage that wolves have done to Yellowstone park and surrounding areas.

    • Boreas says:

      Alan,

      I guess you need to point out the “great” damage wolf introduction has caused. Thinning of the previously overbrowsing elk herd resulting in increased stream-side vegetation and consequent stream health? Prey species with a more natural fear of predation resulting in healthier populations? Thinned and more wary coyote populations where wolves thrive? These are typically considered a benefit of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone.

      Of course there are negative consequences to any reintroduction of a long extirpated species. National Parks are not zoos. No fences – and ideally, natural population dynamics once the ecosystem has settled back into a more balanced state. Part of this will be human impact, and this impact and how we deal with it as a nation allows us to see what is more important to us. Ranching and farming close to National Parks both on private and BLM lands certainly come to mind. Should buffer zones be expanded? Should ranching be discouraged? It could be said that ranching and farming create much more ecological and land damage than wolves ever could.

      HOWEVER, I do feel there is a definite problem with hunters being able to discriminate a wolf from a coyote with any certainty. I suppose if there is a doubt, don’t pull the trigger. But this isn’t very realistic or reliable. And of course, once in a trap, how would even a known wolf be handled? Obviously, more can be done to educate trappers and hunters to be more cautious, but I would suggest attempts to decrease nearly unrestricted coyote harvests would likely decrease the likelihood of unintended wolf kills over time. There seems to be no simple answer.

      • JB says:

        Boreas, while I too would be skeptical of claims the wolves have done “great damage” since reintroduction at Yellowstone (primarily, this type of claim is made in reference to the precipitous decline in the elk herd that has coincided with the reintroduction), it’s a double-sided coin.

        Any unequivocal counter-claims to ecosystem-wide “benefits” from wolf introduction (e.g., the claim that wolves are ecosystem-engineers that have restored balance, prevented overgrazing, etc.) are premature at best, perhaps even misguided. Despite being one of the most heavily studied ecosystems for predator dynamics in the world, very little is understood. What is understood is merely enough to cast doubt on popular assumptions about the role that wolves play in ecosystems like Yellowstone: as elk have decreased, populations of other predators (grizzlies and cougars) and competition from other grazing animals (bison) have increased; human hunting patterns have shifted and elk take has generally increased in areas adjacent to Yellowstone National Park; elk population survey methodologies have been inconsistent; a number of historically severe winters of occurred (see “The challenge of understanding northern Yellowstone elk dynamics after wolf reintroduction”, MacNulty et al [https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/upload/YELLOWSTONE-SCIENCE-24-1-WOLVES.pdf — p. 25]). Making matters worse, studies on trophic cascades purporting positive correlation between wolf reintroduction and aspen regeneration have been called into question on the grounds of flawed methodology (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdfdirect/10.1111/ele.13915).

        Now imagine trying to prove anything about wolf dynamics in the densely forested, widely-hunted, “coyote”-“infested” Adirondacks!

        We’d all like to think that the restoration of an iconic, majestic species like the wolf is utterly transformational and will make all right with the world. In reality, balance is subtle and complex. I think that our main takeaway should be that, at best, we shouldn’t be deliberately meddling with things that we don’t understand; and, since this is not feasible, the state (as in, government in general) should not institute policies that are blatantly meddling. Whether that be artificial wildlife translocation and reintroduction efforts, or woefully unregulated hunting and trapping laws, meddling is meddling.

        I think that trapping is actually far less of a problem than hunting in the case of canids. For one, coyote hunters outnumber trappers 10 to 1. Second, I’d imagine that identifying a wolf from 100 yards through an infrared scope at night would be more difficult than up-close the next morning when checking a trap line. And, barring the completely unimaginable legalization of snares or pits, the entire rationale behind modern, legal foot hold traps is that non-target catch can be released most of the time with little injury. I’m sure Alan has released at least one bobcat caught out of legal season in his 50 years, and although I’m sure he had the aid of some friends and a heck of a lot of protection, it may very well have been more difficult than releasing an 80 pound wolf would be.

        And I’m with Gary on the butterflies, too. And the plants for that matter.

        • AG says:

          “I think that our main takeaway should be that, at best, we shouldn’t be deliberately meddling with things that we don’t understand; and, since this is not feasible, the state (as in, government in general) should not institute policies that are blatantly meddling. Whether that be artificial wildlife translocation and reintroduction efforts, or woefully unregulated hunting and trapping laws, meddling is meddling.”

          Except there are many cultures in the world learned centuries ago that if you wipe out apex predators it has a negative effect on the overall ecosystem. Humans with guns are not a natural part of the ecosystem… That is literally meddling. In fact – humans wiping out native wolves (and cougars and elk and bison etc.) in the first place is what caused the state to be “infested” with coyotes. It is coyotes that are NOT native to NY. Coyotes moved in because the wolves and cougars that they run from were wiped out. Natural ecosystems must adjust. If allowed – wolves would naturally suppress the coyotes – or breed them out.

          • JB says:

            That’s a fair point. I’d guess that a big reason that some on this forum are not even aware that coyote hunting is popular is that coyotes are less abundant in the less disturbed Adirondacks than elsewhere. Also, most incidents involving killed wolves seem to take place just south of the Park — the place where habitat for wolves actually exists.

            The problem is that the Adirondack Park is not situated in the context of humanless remote wilderness, or even Yellowstone or Algonquin. If it was, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Instead, humans here are an outsized part of the ecosystem, whether we like it or not.

            I’m all for abandoning the entire region to wilderness, but unfortunately, this is not going to happen any time soon. Hence, we’re stuck with a large number coyotes, and maybe a small wolf population, if they stand a chance genetically (look at places in the American south where wolf populations have succumb to hybridization with coyotes, not the other way around).

            In terms of meddling, let’s start by finding a reasonable balance. Any useful definition of meddling needs to be inherently agnostic: repetitive deliberate action to change natural patterns. Hunting may or may not fall under that umbrella. Certainly modern trophy hunting does, and commercial fur trapping does. But magnitude matters, too. An outright ban on coyote hunting and trapping in parts of the Adirondacks may not necessarily be unreasonable, but how much effect would it have given that the magnitude of the practice in the Adirondacks? Now consider that the Adirondacks has long been a place where DEC has experimented with species reintroduction via artificial translocation. This is meddling too, except that with this type, endemic lineages are much more likely to be lost. That was my primary point regarding meddling.

            • AG says:

              To your last point… But that is the whole issue. They have been trying to return to NY and New England for decades but keep getting killed. They moved back naturally into California in this century from Oregon. It’s really not complicated. Animals like to migrate. Wolves will never be as populous as coyotes because they eat more and they “have to” live in packs with huge ranges. They naturally cannot have the population that coyotes have – and that’s why there are hybrids. Coyotes can live just as a couple and their pups leave every year. Not the same as a wolf… Also their ranges are much much smaller – which allows for them to live more densely… They also can eat things wolves won’t be attracted to. Coyotes in The Bronx eat mostly raccoons – birds – rats… Wolves call those snacks.

    • AG says:

      “great damage that wolves have done to Yellowstone park and surrounding areas”??? The park has never been healthier since wolves were brought back. And killing coyotes produces more coyotes. The only real way to suppress coyote numbers is NATURALLY by wolves and cougars. Even habitat destruction doesn’t stop coyotes… That’s why coyotes have moved into and can live within city limits of NYC – Toronto – Chicago etc.

  2. MITCH EDELSTEIN says:

    “but all I need to do is point out the great damage that wolves have done to Yellowstone park and surrounding areas.”

    Please document this statement, or provide a link to support your statement.

  3. Gary N. LEE says:

    One possible wolf and yet Herkimer county can chop up hundreds of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars and chrysalis mowing on the South Shore and Big Moose Roads a now endangered species and I’m the only one screaming murder.

    • Boreas says:

      Gary,

      Not just Monarchs, but pollinators in general use roadside flowers and “weeds” as a food source. A strongly-worded letter to Com. Seggos may get his attention, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. You may be able to get action sooner by working with local officials. I enjoy roadside wildflowers and “weeds” and would prefer they did not get cut until they have gone to seed. I understand the need for annual mowing, but am not convinced roadsides NEED to be mowed 2-3 times a year. Perhaps the first mowing could be limited to clearing the area around signage (using minimal pesticides), then a full mowing delayed until Fall to control tree species.

  4. Steve B. says:

    Wolves have been beneficial to the ecosystem of Yellowstone. This is pretty well documented.

    As well, the eastern coyote is typically in the 45-55 lbs range, while the wolf shot in Cooperstown was 80 lbs. That points to a substantially larger animal that I would think and experienced trapper would easily see the difference.

    It appears that the DEC is deliberately wanting to classify the dead wolf as a coyote so as to not have to explain why they are not enforcing the state endangered species laws.

    • Boreas says:

      Steve B.’

      Indeed. Although unlikely, what does a trapper do for an obvious wolf that is found still alive in a foot-hold trap that legally should be released? Even if it could be released, what about the injury?

      From DEC website on trapping regulations:

      “If the animal is injured to the extent you believe it will not survive, humanely dispatch it. If you are not sure, contact a DEC Regional Wildlife Office for assistance.

      When you find an unintentionally captured animal dead in the trap, or when you must dispatch an unintentionally captured animal due to a serious injury, you may remove it and lay it in the vicinity of the trap. There are no legal provisions for you to keep it, and you may not possess it even to take it back to your vehicle without permission from DEC.”

      • Steve B. says:

        Was that the case ?. Was the wolf in a foot trap ?, I had not read that. Yes, either attempt a release or mercy killing.

        • Boreas says:

          Steve B.,

          What I described was NOT an actual case, but rather a hypothetical situation WRT legal trapping of large canids (coyotes/coy-wolves) and unintentional trapping of a wolf. A seasoned hunter at least has a chance to assess each animal and decide not shoot at an animal suspected to be a wolf based on appearance or habit. But a trapper is not present when an animal is trapped. If/when a non-target species is trapped unintentionally – even a fully-protected species – there is a difficult choice for the trapper to make – dispatch the animal or attempt to release it with likely injury to the foot.

          I don’t have an answer. I am just pointing out the inherent difficulty in trying to fully protect one canid and not protecting a similar canid that could be in the same area. Can it realistically be done by DEC?

  5. Ryan Finnigan says:

    Thank you to Protect the Adirondacks for their continued involvement on this issue!

  6. Mark Lazeration says:

    Wolves are an essential historic Apex predator, and are the very embodiment of wild America. Their protection and restoration has proven to provide positive Ecosystem benefits, in such diverse settings as Yelllwstone, and the Prioyat exclusion zone in Ukraine.
    As a part of the coevolving heritage of wolves and men, we must bring them back.

  7. JC says:

    The lack of transparency by DEC regarding release of the wolf dna test results shows that DEC is still tainted by the Cuomo adminstration. Commissioner Segos went from his previous job with a not for profit protecting the Hudson River to a political animal under Cuomo and now he is still here. Under him and Andrew Cuomo every move regarding the Adirondacks and the rest of the state’s natural resources seemed based on politics not environmental protection. Staff at the ground level I have interacted with seemed hesitant to investigate aggressively, perhaps for fear of their jobs. Others at the adminstrative level were downright surly and unhelpful. Gone are the good old days at DEC during the administration of the jovial amd open Henry Williams, DEC Commissioner under Mario Cuomo. Even Republican George Pataki was a good friend of the environment and the Adirondacks. In the latest news Segos is off on some temporary assignment out of the State. Perhaps a good opportunity for a house cleaning at DEC and a new leadership.. I guess we will have to wait until after the election.

    • RO says:

      George Pataki was the best for everything in NY. Wish he could come back!

    • Boreas says:

      JC,

      I agree. As long as Seggos heads up the agency, DEC will wander in the political wilderness while the actual wilderness takes a back seat. No vision and no plans to develop one. As far as I am concerned, he is little more than an Cuomo sycophant that needs to be replaced by someone with a strong environmental policy vision for the Park.

      Perhaps DEC needs two heads (or perhaps two agencies) – one specifically for Adirondack and Catskill Parks, and another for the remainder of NYS. We need a commissioner who will work transparently with all stakeholders. The public is getting weary of back-room decisions negotiated and cemented before any public input.

  8. Chris kunes says:

    Kill them all

  9. Mike says:

    Wolves, like pitbulls who are protected by animal rights are great until they’re not.

  10. Peter Bauer says:

    All:

    We have some breaking news. The 2nd independent DNA analysis mentioned above is complete. The report concludes that the Cooperstown wolf “sample carries a combined 97.8% gray wolf (C. lupus) ancestry with nearly all of that derived from gray wolves of the Great Lake and only 1.4% identified as Eastern wolf (C. lycaon).”

    See the analysis here: https://www.protectadks.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/vonHoldt_report_NY_canid.pdf

    It’s time for the DEC to put their cards on the table.

  11. LeRoy Hogan says:

    According to Yellowstone National Park, wolves are good for the balance of the environment in regard to the animals and plant life.

  12. Erik S Michaelsen says:

    I wonder if any of you have seen what a canine does to a sheep or deer that they kill, and this can include domestic dogs that pack up ? I have, and let’s just say it’s not pretty.

    • JC says:

      Coyotes here are in packs and kill sheep and deer. i had sheep and had to give up due to coyotes tearing them and and leaving them eviscerated, some times still alive with guts hanging out. The same for deer- I found a deer torn to pieces in my barnyard right behind my house and a dozen coyotes still there at 8 in the morning ripping at the carcass. When we were trying to bury a deceased horse the coyote pack tried to get at the carcass while the backhoe was there and we had to shoot a few coyotes to drive them off. I don’t think the scenario can be any worse with wolves. If wolves are shy of people then maybe we will be better off with wolves.

      • Boreas says:

        JC,

        As you know, coyotes are generalists/opportunists and wolves tend to be specialists, based on available prey. It is well documented in YNP that wolves there go out of their way to kill or at least harass smaller, native coyotes. It remains to be seen how they would interact with the coy-wolves here in the NE. Regardless, in any balanced ecosystem, there is only room for so many predators. Coy-wolves have taken advantage of the ecological niche left vacant by wolf eradication. This could make it very difficult, if not impossible, for grey wolves to become well established in the NE USA. Coy-wolves have already adapted fairly well to human habitation and roads. Wolves would need to do this as well, in addition to constant competition from coy-wolves. I frankly don’t see grey wolves building a viable breeding population here without a dramatic reduction in coy-wolf hybrids first.

    • Boreas says:

      I have as well. It IS difficult to watch through the lens of our culture. But predator/prey relationships are ubiquitous across the globe. It is a basic tenet of Nature. Many apex predators have evolved as obligate carnivores so require fresh meat to survive. What I see as even uglier is disease, starvation, and animals killed by vehicles. But at least disease and starvation are still natural processes.

      Human civilization and culture are the new kids on the block, and are still trying to master Nature as opposed to fitting in with it. Humans are often reminded of the problems associated with our attempts to control Nature, as well as our unintended pressures and damage to natural systems by our civilization – likely things our species will struggle with forever.

    • AG says:

      sheep are farm animals – not nature…. as to a deer… Well wolves and other predators don’t have knives to cut their meat. they don’t have butchers to do it for them… they don’t have refrigerators to store their meat for them either… So how do they eat???

      • Ethan says:

        I, too, am awaiting a sensical response.
        Perhaps NY State farmers/ranchers aren’t yet familiar with “predator-friendly” ranching techniques.

        • AG says:

          Indeed. Europe is more crowded than the US… The wolf population is increasing. Also increasing is the breeding of livestock guardian dogs – just as humans used dogs for centuries. No reason it can’t work in the northeastern US.

  13. Lake Reader says:

    Needing to protect the deer population from coyotes is an interesting rationale. Are deer numbers really threatened given the steady decline of persons hunting? My impression was that an overpopulation of deer left the herd less healthy & vulnerable to disease, e.g., CWS. Plus deer are the principal vector for Lyme, a real & increasing problem in the Adirondacks. Why do we think deer & coyotes wouldn’t find a natural equilibrium without human intervention? And if not hunting down coyotes means fewer, but healthy deer, why wouldn’t that be a good thing?

  14. Ethan says:

    Thank you for the update, Peter.
    It’s incumbent upon the DEC to be transparent…and to act NOW. NY Wolves deserve protection. It seems clear why the DEC would prefer not to acknowledge that the killed animal in question was indeed a wolf. Might rattle the cages of trappers and predator specie hunters who will be compelled to spend additional time learning the difference between wolves and coyotes. Too, it’s past time that coyote hunting and trapping rules be given some serious, meaningful adjustments. Those god-awful coyote killing “contests” which the DEC has refused to condemn should have never been permitted.

  15. Garet Livermore says:

    Just a lay persons perspective. I live in Cooperstown and have family land just a few miles from where this wolf was shot. Last November I encountered a group of 4 animals while on an early morning walk with my dogs. I believe that one of these was the wolf that was shot and whose DNA is in question.
    I can say that I frequently see evidence of coyotes on our property and also hear them and sometimes see them. This group of animals looked and behaved very differently than the coyotes that I have seen. I saw them when I left a wooded area and entered a field. The 4 animals were crossing the field about 50 yards ahead of me. As soon as they saw me two of them took off and two stood their ground, one in a low crouch on the ground, the other, a very large canid, with similar coloration to the one that was shot remained standing, and kept a steady stare at myself and my dogs. One of my dogs (a very happy go lucky young golden retriever) started running up to the two canids, but luckily responded to my yelling at him and returned to me. As we walked away the two held their positions and watched us.
    I have never seen this behavior from coyotes who always beat a quick retreat and also the coloration of the animals and size of the animals was very wolf like and not similar to the coyotes that I have seen.
    I was so taken by this encounter that I wrote other family members to caution them when they also walked their dogs on the land.
    That said, I believe that it is a good thing to have apex predators return to the land and hopefully begin to get the deer population in balance. Right now the deer are causing great environmental damage by destroying the forest understory and interrupting the natural succession of tree species.

    • Paul says:

      “I have never seen this behavior from coyotes who always beat a quick retreat and also the coloration of the animals and size of the animals was very wolf like and not similar to the coyotes that I have seen.”

      That is not my experience. I have personally seen coyotes kill dogs, ones considerably larger than they are. Just ask a rabbit hunter if they think a coyote won’t kill a dog trying to chase it’s prey.

      • Boreas says:

        Paul,

        I think you are contrasting two different types of behavior. One is a small pack or family group crossing a field, the other is a group attacking a small canid (perhaps with a human not immediately present) which they view as a direct competitor – the same thing a wolf pack does to coyotes where their populations overlap.

        I think what Garet was trying to illustrate was that this group of animals did not display the typical fear of humans (with a dog). I may be splitting hairs, but I think we are contrasting predatory instincts with defense instincts. His encounter may have been simply a parent(s) signalling for its offspring to hide while they further assess the danger. Animals in defense of young will show varying amounts of aggressiveness.

        Is Garet’s anecdotal example evidence of wolf vs. coy-wolf behavior? No way to tell. Tail posture and facial/head/eye structure, and behavior are fairly reliable ways to distinguish wolf from Western coyote, but Eastern coy-wolf hybrids can be all over the place, both anatomically, and behaviorally.

    • Ryan Finnigan says:

      @Garet Livermore – Interesting perspective and great comment. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Tom Paine says:

    I don’t smell a wolf, but I do catch the scent of a rat. NYS sportsmen and trappers associations, beware of dirty Albany deals in the middle of the night. The wolf is nothing but a pawn.

  17. Paul says:

    “Higher hunting just produces more coyotes, which produces more coyote hunting, which produces more coyotes, and so it goes.”

    Is this true? We have lots and lots of coyotes in NY and I don’t think we have very many coyote “hunters” at all? Occasionally I see one here or there. And large numbers of deer hunters shoot very few coyotes. If you want to get lots of coyotes you have to rap them, and almost nobody does this either.

    • Ethan says:

      Coyote hunters seem to be a relatively secretive group, perhaps because the greater public doesn’t approve of indiscriminate, unlimited take of coyotes and other species.
      Yes, compensatory reproduction is a “thing”:

      https://unis.mcgill.ca/en/uw/mammals/coyotes_wolves.html

      https://www.straighttwist.com/post/does-killing-coyotes-increase-their-population

      • Paul says:

        Ethan, I understand that it is a thing. My point was “is it true” that this is what is happening in NYS. If you are running dogs to hunt coyotes which is the most successful way to do it, if you want to get any large takes, you can’t be too “secretive”. Not many people are doing it.

        • Ethan says:

          Apparently neither of us have stats however I think hounders are far fewer than the combination of “hunters” and trappers, which I’m grateful for.

          • Paul says:

            True. Not sure about the trapper part, there must be license data there. Only anecdotal but I used to know and see a number of people who trapped in the Adirondacks, now, I personally, don’t know any. Probably why I have so many beavers at my camp!

      • Boreas says:

        Ethan,

        Compensatory reproduction is a commonly accepted theory among many species of both prey and predator. But it should be noted that it is understood to be more of a factor with population stressors such as availability of food and habitat, versus simple mortality from hunting or predation. In one bountiful territory, hunting mortality may well produce larger, viable litters. In a nearby territory with fewer food resources, the same hunting pressure could decimate a family group or pack, splitting it up to find more productive habitat. In other words, mortality does not always increase food availability to survivors enough to prompt hormonal changes to increase fertility.

        My point is, one cannot simply say ‘hunting just results in higher litter size’. Population and breeding dynamics are multi-factorial and therefore quite complicated. But the simpler rule-of-thumb is that both predator and prey populations will expand to fill any niche according to available resources, and usually keep each other in control.

  18. JB says:

    I’ve enjoyed following along with the debate here. The big question for me wouldn’t be whether wolves live in NY, but how common are they? Often, after the discovery of a population of a new species, people lose sight of the fact that the species is still usually very rare.

    Does this discovery create a valid impetus for more regulation on coyote hunting and trapping? It very well may. In terms of numbers, here’s the extent of what we have from DEC: “About 30,000 New Yorkers participate in coyote hunting each year and about 3,000 participate in coyote trapping.” (https://www.dec.ny.gov/animals/9359.html)

    As Boreas says, there aren’t any mandatory pelt-sealing requirements for the species, so there’s no way to be sure about actual harvest. But the Catch-22 is that the established mechanism for getting that data, requiring pelt sealing, requires that each hunter or trapper physically meet with a DEC officer immediately upon taking an animal, usually many times per season. That’s not a very scalable system. Basic regulations like self-reporting, shorter seasons and bag limits make much more sense at this point.

    I’m also curious to hear more from Protect! on what they would like to see. People are inevitably going to cry foul that they have financed the genetic testing testing, though I’d argue that this was a genuinely benevolent act. But at the same time, Protect! clearly has a dog in this fight. For example, in their adamant opposition to various proposals in the state legislature to allow cable restraints in trapping, I believe that they’ve echoed some of the misinformation coming from animal rights groups, i.e., that cable restraints have a track record for being more lethal and dangerous than foot hold traps.

    Unfortunately, if not handled well, all of this could cast a shadow or serve as a diversion from an otherwise very important mission: protecting ecosystems and wild places. Alas, one positive sign would be that Protect! is advocating for openness and transparency. After all, the biggest problem in all of this is the secrecy. Mammal biology is a notoriously secretive world, and the natural sciences apparatus that we have here in general is relatively secretive and antiquated. As we’re seeing, this opens the door for all sorts of bad policy when conditions are right.

    • Boreas says:

      JB,

      As a side, I wonder if an app like Google Lens could be tweaked and modified to specifically help identify a canid based on facial recognition characteristics? Of course, the animal would typically be deceased, but it would be much simpler than DNA analysis if it were accurate enough. At least it could be used to help a hunter/trapper determine if the animal should be reported.

      Many experts agree that head shape, ear shape, and forward-located eyes (as in dogs) are good indicators of wolf DNA. Perhaps this can be quantified and applied to real-world identification scenarios with large canids. Of course, hybrids will be the bane of any easy identification system.

    • JohnL says:

      From the DEC: “About 30,000 New Yorkers participate in coyote hunting each year ..” It didn’t say how they got those hunter numbers. Just from my personal experience, I find it hard to believe there are that many people who go out and actively hunt just coyotes in NYS. I know it’s extremely popular in many western states but I personally know no-one that hunts them that way in this state. Now, if the DEC counted deer (or other) hunters who said they would shoot a coyote IF they saw one while deer hunting, that’s another story. I think the big half of people asked that way would probably say yes. As always, I could be wrong on this.

      • JB says:

        JohnL, I know of quite a few hunters who will specifically hunt coyotes each year. I’m not sure if 30,000 is an accurate number, but it’s fairly common in places.

        Boreas, those apps are surprisingly good, but obviously much easier to use for things that don’t move, like plants. It’s going to be impossible to prevent wolves from being killed as non-target animals by coyote hunters, but there are ways to reduce the risk I’m sure. But then again, how often is this happening? Once every 10 years? Meanwhile, NY is losing 10,000 acres of potential wolf habitat per year to sprawl.

        • JohnL says:

          Thanks JB. What obviously makes it particularly dangerous for the occasional wolf is their similarity in appearance to a coyote and that coyotes CAN legally be shot, during their open season of course. To an expert maybe the differences are obvious, but to the average hunter peering thru brush and trees at a considerable distance, the size differential and other characteristics just don’t appear that great.

  19. Melody Pom says:

    Why do people like to kill?
    Is it really sport
    when the animal doesn’t have a gun
    A trap

    Please stop killing these beautiful animals

    Stop hating Wildlife

    Stop the bloodshed

    Stop killing for sport

    find some other sport that is non-lethal
    And does not shed blood

  20. Paul says:

    One thing these articles has probably done is scare someone who thinks they may have mistakenly shot/trapped a wolf to report it to anyone. So that data source is probably gone.

  21. Paul says:

    I would guess the most likely explanation is the wolf wandered down from Canada. That’s pretty much the whole story… Wolves have real populations close by, no big surprise here really, I feel bad for the poor bugger, must have been lonely. Algonquin provincial park has wolves right? That isn’t much of a swim, just the river, which has bridges.

  22. Ethan says:

    That excuse should not be acceptable. Hunters and trappers must follow DEC regulations and which should become more stringent.
    I concur with JB, “Basic regulations like self-reporting, shorter seasons and bag limits make much more sense at this point.”

    I understand your point about potential for frightening hunters who may mistakenly shoot or trap a wolf but these articles *are* necessary and the dialogue among commenters has been very educational.
    It’s commendable that, for the most part, this exchange has been very civil.

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