A DNA test has confirmed that an animal shot about 100 miles from the Vermont border last December was a wolf.
While data has shown some Northeast coyotes are wolf-coyote hybrids, the DNA of the 85-pound creature killed near Cooperstown, NY, was 99% wolf – a mix of Great Lakes, Northwest Territories and eastern gray wolf, according to DNA test results announced Tuesday.
Joseph Butera, a member of the Northeast Ecological Recovery Society, a nonprofit that advocates for the restoration of native species in the Northeast, coordinated the DNA test after seeing the wolf pictured on the hunter’s social media page . The hunter agreed to provide a tissue sample, which was tested by a lab at Trent University in Ontario.
While the gray wolves regained protection under federal endangered species law in February, they weren’t covered when the hunter shot the wolf.
Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department officials say wolves are unlikely to settle in Vermont anytime soon. While the occasional wolf can stray from its established population in Canada — less than a two-day trip, according to the Vermont Center for Biological Diversity — the coyote has largely taken the wolf’s place at the top of the food chain.
If state officials identify a wolf in the state, Mark Scott, wildlife division director for Vermont Fish & Wildlife, said he doubts it is from a wild population.
“We just don’t have any evidence that they’re here,” he said.
However, members of regional environmental groups – the Northeast Ecological Recovery Society, the Maine Wolf Coalition and the Center for Biological Diversity – said the presence of the deceased wolf was part of a pattern of sightings that are slowly increasing in frequency. They want to see state governments study the issue.
It’s a sign, wildlife advocates say, that wolves — which have been extirpated from Vermont since the late 1800s, according to the Fish & Wildlife Department — could recover in the region with some policy adjustments in New England. and in Canada.
John Glowa, of the Maine Wolf Coalition, a volunteer group that has collected animal scat and tissue samples throughout the northeast to identify the presence of wolves, said his group does not advocate ‘reintroduction’ wolves, but rather the “recolonization” of the species.
Recolonization, he said, is when an animal is exterminated from a location, but later returns to that territory on its own when conditions become appropriate. New York is only 60 miles from documented wolf populations in Quebec, he said.
“We have worked very hard to promote a binational recovery plan between the United States and Canada to simply allow wolves to survive in Canada so that they can disperse the United States and occupy some of the very suitable habitat. that we have here in the United States,” Glowa said.
The complexity and purity of the New York wolf’s DNA suggests the animal may have traveled from Canada, where different wolves are known to breed, according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Science, including DNA evidence and a growing number of dead wolves, tells us that wolves are present in the North East, despite continued government denials,” Glowa said in the statement.
Two wolves have been documented in Vermont, according to the Maine Wolf Coalition. In 1998 a 72 pound man was fatally shot in Glover, and in 2006 a 91 pound man was killed in North Troy.
Brenna Galdenzi, president of the Vermont advocacy organization Protect Our Wildlife, said the issue deserves attention and research. She pointed to an upcoming process by the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department, in which officials will reconsider the coyote hunting season.
In Vermont, coyotes became established in the mid-1950s and are thought to have bred with wolves during the species’ eastward migration.
Galdenzi said he’s seen photos of coyotes, which hunters and trappers have posted on social media, where the animals look like wolves, with round ears, “broad faces and snouts, and are unusually large.”
“We urge Fish & Wildlife to stop the unregulated open coyote hunting season and make an effort to understand what is happening on the ground and what type of wild canine we have here in Vermont,” she said. declared.
While gray wolves have regained protection under federal endangered species law, coyote-wolf hybrids have no such protection, she said, and without further research, it It’s unclear whether wolves exist in the state or not.
Scott of the Fish & Wildlife Department said DNA testing is expensive and funds have not yet been allocated for this purpose.
“From a broader perspective, in the state of Vermont, we know we have a canine here that sometimes acts a bit like a wolf, but we know it’s primarily the coyote,” he said. he declares. “It’s a matter of, you don’t have a lot of money to do wildlife management research. Where do you put it?”