New coalition fights for gray wolves

A new coalition that includes numerous Adirondack organizations is fighting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services’s plan to remove federal protections for gray wolves.

“What we’d like to do is just make it possible to have wolves recover,” said Maggie Howell, director of the Wolf Conservation Center in South Salem and a member of the newly formed Northeast Wolf Coalition.

The coalition is a group that consists of national, regional and local conservation organizations, including the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Wild, Protect the Adirondacks, Maine Wolf Coalition, Wildlands Network and others.

“Our Northeast boreal and mixed-hardwood ecosystems in the Adirondacks need top predators like the wolf to fully function,” said Dan Plumley of Adirondack Wild in a prepared statement. “As wolves disperse from Canada into our region from the North and the West – and we already have seen significant evidence that this can and has happened – we simply must preserve and protect wolves and all top canids.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to remove the gray wolf from its list of threatened and endangered species was announced in June 2013.

The wildlife agency justified the plan by citing rebounding populations of gray wolves in the Midwest. The agency estimates there are now at least 6,100 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, including 1,674 in the northern Rocky Mountains and 4,432 in the western Great Lakes.

The agency also said the current listing for gray wolf, which was developed 35 years ago, erroneously included large geographical areas outside the species’ historical range in 29 eastern states, including New York state and the Adirondacks. According to the agency, this area was occupied by the eastern wolf, a distinct species of wolf not belonging to the gray wolf species.

However, the agency’s conclusion that the gray wolf didn’t exist in the eastern U.S. has been refuted by members of the coalition and was also recently refuted by a peer reviewed report organized by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California in Santa Barbara.

The peer review committee was particularly critical of the federal agency’s determination that the gray wolf never occurred in the east.

“The proposed rule states that the results of the recent molecular genetic analyses … indicate that the gray wolf did not occur in the eastern United States,” stated Sylvia Fallon, senior scientist with the National Resources Defense Council in the peer reviewed report. “However, the papers that are cited support this assertion do not actually exclude the gray wolf from the range of the eastern U.S. In fact, the authors of the papers that are cited have explicitly made this point to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service previously.”

Since the delisting of gray wolves was first announced in June 2013, there have been a serious of public comment periods and hearings.

In February, the federal agency re-opened the public comment period after receiving the findings of the peer reviewed report. This public comment period ends Thursday.

“Our main concern isn’t what will happen in New York because it’s still a protected species here, but between New York and the places where it still lives in large numbers, we don’t have those protections in place in some states,” said Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan. “We’re concerned this will make it more difficult for a wolf to move back to the Adirondack Park on its own.”

There are currently no known gray wolves living in the Adirondacks or New York.