Looking for Wolves

As we wait for the USFWS decision regarding delisting gray wolves in the northeast and declaring the eastern wolf to be the one wolf species native to the northeast, MWC continues to look for wolves that science and physical evidence tell us are here. We recently received a report of a large canid no more than ten miles from where a wolf was killed in eastern Maine in 1996. MWC went to the site of the report, placed a trail camera with scent bait, and collected a scat for possible later DNA analysis. We plan to leave the camera in place until deep snows prevent us from retrieving it. We know that one or more large canids uses the trail on which the camera is located, based upon the size and location of the scat. See photo of the animal’s tracks. The dollar bill is approximately six inches long.

Route 9 Canid Track

Route 9 Canid Track

As luck would have it, we recently came across a pair of large canid tracks in eastern Washington County on a snowmobile/ATV trail. We intend to set up a trail camera in an attempt to photograph these animals. See photo of tracks from one or both animals. The clear track is very wolflike with its elongated shape and healthy size.

Washington County Canid - November 2014

Washington County Canid – November 2014

We are learning more and more about the genetics of canids in the northeast and eastern Canada. Maine is in the heart of what is referred to as a “hybrid swarm” that stretches from Manitoba east to Newfoundland and south from the Midwest U.S. to the Mid-Atlantic. There are virtually no pure wolves or coyotes in this region. An animal that was predominantly gray wolf was recently captured in South Carolina, many hundreds of miles from acknowledged gray wolf populations. The large canids that are part of this hybrid swarm are gray wolf/eastern wolf hybrids, eastern wolf/gray wolf hybrids, eastern wolf/coyote hybrids, coyote/eastern wolf hybrids or a combination of all three species. Gray wolf hybrids predominate in the north and west while coyote hybrids predominate in the south and east. Eastern wolf hybrids predominate in a narrow band across southern Ontario and Quebec. Because of this hybrid swarm where any “pure’ gray or eastern wolves would likely hybridize, the chances of seeing a natural recolonization of “pure” wolves in the northeast is zero. Likewise, any reintroduction of “pure” wolves would result in any reintroduced animals or their offspring hybridizing with existing hybrids. Once we understand and acknowledge that, because of man’s interference we will not have genetically pure wolves in the northeast, we must find a way to address that fact. It is interesting to note that although the Endangered Species Act doesn’t address hybrids, the hybrid wolves of the Great Lakes region are considered wolves by the federal government.

Hybrid or not, wolves are an essential component of a healthy, naturally functioning ecosystem. The state and federal governments have a responsibility as trustees of our wildlife to properly manage them. There is no doubt, from a scientific basis, that as a keystone species, wolves have a huge impact on our ecosystem. That impact has been and continues to be documented in Yellowstone Park where wolves were returned after an absence of more than a half century. The beaver, moose or deer doesn’t care if a wolf is a hybrid. The hybrid canid performs the essentially the same functions in the ecosystem. Scientific evidence shows that coywolves that live in areas where deer are common are behaviorally, genetically and morphologically becoming more like wolves.

We are also learning more about wolf dispersal across southern and eastern Canada with numerous reports of wolflike animals across regions of southern Ontario well south of documented wolf range. It is likely that many of these animals are coyote/wolf hybrids that live in the region, but some are likely wolf/wolf or wolf/coyote hybrids that are dispersing from the Great Lakes region and Algonquin Park. In recent years, increased protection for wolves in and around Algonquin Park has resulted in the restoration of pack structures for wolves in the park and increased dispersal of wolves beyond park borders.

The trail camera photograph below shows one animal of a pack of three wolves that reportedly killed a dog southwest of Algonquin Park in a region called Algonquin Highlands.

Algonquin Highlands,  Ontario Wolf

Algonquin Highlands, Ontario Wolf

We now believe it is possible that wolves are coming into New York State by crossing the Niagara River from Ontario. Until now, MWC has focused on wolves crossing the St. Lawrence River due to the proximity of wolf range to the river and areas of lightly developed land north of the river through which wolves could travel during dispersal. An internet search, however, has turned up significant numbers of possible wolf sightings north and west of Lake Ontario. The photo below shows a possible wolf in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, just a stone’s throw from Niagara Falls and the New York border.

Canid - St. Catherines, Ontario

Canid – St. Catherines, Ontario

The bottom line is that there continues to be growing evidence of the expansion of wolf range from Canada into the northeast U.S. We continue to do battle with the state and federal governments as they refuse to give wolves in the northeast the protection to which they are entitled. If they are not going to look for and educate the public about wolves, then it’s up to us to do so.

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