No other North American mammal inspires such a wide range of human emotions as the gray wolf (Canis lupus). Feared and admired, cursed and revered, wolves are the stuff of legends and a symbol of America’s vanishing wilderness. Their reputation is larger than life; their role in the restoration of America’s wildlife heritage is bigger still. The passionate positive and negative responses that wolves inspire in people have left the issue of their recovery in remaining suitable habitat throughout their historic range both contentious and undecided, but also full of promise. Wolves have been present in North America for tens of thousands of years, co-evolving with the muskox, bison, elk, deer and moose.
The howl of the wolf has been silent in the Northeast for centuries. Persecution of the northeastern wolf began in 1630 when the Massachusetts Bay Colony paid bounty hunters an average month’s salary for each wolf killed. For the next three centuries, as settlement extended across the continent, hunters shot, poisoned, trapped, dynamited and burned wolves. After the decimation of natural prey herds during the 19th century, wolf populations declined. Resulting conflicts with humans led to the elimination of wolves from the forests of northern Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont by the mid 1800’s.
Fortunately, attitudes have changed. Scientists now understand that wolves are important to ecosystems. Public support for wolf recovery also has increased over the last two decades as better education dispels the myth of the “big, bad wolf.”
Many ecologists fear we may not realize the full ecological impacts of the absence of wolves for generations to come. Restoring wolves fulfills an obligation to our environment, to the wolf and to future generations. Like many other ecosystems, those in the Northeast will not regain full ecological integrity until its top predator is restored.
"What a country chooses to save
is what a country
chooses to say about itself."
~ Mollie Beattie,
Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1993-1996
Studies have shown that suitable habitat and sufficient prey exist for wolves in northern Maine, northern New Hampshire, Vermont and Adirondack Park region in upstate New York. Natural recolonization would depend on wolves dispersing from populations in Canada or neighboring populations in the Great Lakes Region.
In the Northeast, wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act, that is, until the USFWS’s draft rule is finalized. The problem, however, is their resemblance to the eastern coyote which are very similar in appearance to wolves. All five states (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and New York) promote killing wolves because they all sanction policies that encourage the unregulated killing of canids. None of the five states acknowledges the presence or likely presence of wolves. None of the states has sufficient precautions in place to protect wolves from being killed accidentally or intentionally. None of the five states has a management plan to address the potential return of wolves. None of these states promote wolf recovery.
All of these factors put wolves at great risk in the Northeast. And, their role as apex predators is needed to restore much needed balance to burgeoning prey populations in this region. Wolves coming into the Northeastern U.S. should be allowed to live as intended under the ESA.