'coyote' shot in '02
was an eastern gray
By DON LEHMAN
A proposal to reintroduce wolves to the Adirondack Park generated quite a bit of controversy in the late 1990s, but now it appears the wolves didn't need any help to find their way to upstate New York.
Federal fish and wildlife officials have determined that what was initially thought to be a coyote, shot by an Edinburg hunter two winters ago in the town of Day, was in fact a purebred eastern gray wolf, the first wolf found in New York state since the 1890s.
It was shot by coyote hunter Russ "Rusty" Lawrence of Edinburg in January 2002 as he hunted on private land in Day, officials said. Day is just west of Hadley and south of Stony Creek.
After shooting it, Lawrence thought the animal was a big coyote or some sort of hybrid, said Diana Weaver, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation inspected it, though, and didn't issue a coyote tag for it because officials concluded it wasn't a coyote, she said.
A person who saw its pelt later questioned whether it was a wolf and contacted the Fish and Wildlife Service, which seized the remains last fall and tested its DNA, officials said.
Weaver said those tests resulted in the finding that the animal was indeed a wolf.
"It's pretty exciting," she said.
There have been no indications there were any other wolves with or near it, though, Weaver said.
Where the animal came from remains undetermined.
The Fish and Wildlife Service was not able to determine if it was illegally raised in captivity and released - deliberately or accidentally - into the wild, or whether it was wild from birth, Weaver said.
Weaver said the agency had the "best wildlife forensic people in the country" looking into it.
"They were unable to determine whether it's wild or whether it escaped from a domestic situation," she said. "They concluded it was inconclusive."
Efforts to contact Lawrence for comment were unsuccessful Monday.
Although it is illegal to shoot wolves, he won't be prosecuted because he did not know the canine was a wolf, authorities said. It is legal to hunt coyotes from Oct. 1 to March 28.
Dan Allen, the highway superintendent in Day, said word has gotten around town for about a month that a wolf had been killed in Day. He said he knew of no one else who had reported seeing one.
The discovery may rekindle the debate over whether self-sustaining populations of wolves can survive in the woods of the Adirondacks.
The national conservation group Defenders of Wildlife tried to get state and federal approval to re-introduce wolves into the Adirondacks in the mid-1990s, as was done in Yellowstone National Park.
But that effort died when it was determined that gray wolves were not native to the Adirondacks and that development and disease would threaten them.
While wolves were hunted to extinction in New York as of the late 19th century, there are thriving populations in Canada and in the western and midwestern United States.
They also have been found in eastern U.S. states in recent years, with one killed in Vermont in 1997 and two in Maine in the late 1990s. There also are confirmed packs of wolves in Quebec.
Ed Reed, the state Department of Environmental Conservation's deer specialist for the region, said he's seen no evidence of wolf populations hunting deer in the Adirondacks. Deer are the primary source of food for wolves and coyotes.
But he said it would be difficult to differentiate wolf activity from coyote activity, since the animals share genes. Deer remains left behind by coyotes likely wouldn't look different from those left by wolves.
Dave Hicks, a fur trader from Hartford who owns Hicks Sport Shop, said some avid outdoorsmen in the Adirondacks have reported seeing what they believe to be wolves from time to time, as well as mountain lions - also said to be extinct.
The fact that wolves exist in other parts of North America means they'll likely find their way here eventually, he said.
"There's no reason why wolves wouldn't start to migrate into this part of the country," he said.
Get local news delivered to your inbox!
Subscribe to our Daily Headlines newsletter.