The Great North Woods continue to become a little less wild, following another announcement from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
In March 2011, the agency removed federal protection for the eastern cougar, after extensive reviews revealed no evidence of an existing breeding population in the eastern United States.
Researchers believe the Eastern cougar subspecies has been extinct since a trapper in Somerset County, Maine, killed the last confirmed eastern mountain lion in 1938.
More recently, on May 5, 2011, the Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a new rule to eliminate federal protection for wolves throughout the central and eastern U.S.
According to the USFWS proposal, the special regulation for the Eastern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) was based on research indicating the gray wolf is no longer considered a native species in the northeast. The agency now recognizes the eastern wolf (Canis lycaon) as the only wolf native to the northeast, and the agency will evaluate it "for possible protection under the Act in the near future."
The special regulation for the Eastern Distinct Population Segment (DPS) applies to wolves in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
The persecution of wolves by human is the primary reason for the decline of wolves across North America, Humans are the largest single cause of wolf mortality and the only cause that can significantly affect wolf populations at recovery levels.
Studies indicate that wolves require remote wild areas, with a wide range of prey animals. In the northeast, whitetail deer have historically filled this role. However, in a study conducted in Minnesota, researchers determined that road density also plays a significant role in the ability of wolves to establish a presence.
The study discovered that wolves require a road density that does not exceed .9 miles of highway per square mile of land, the current road density of the Adirondack Park. Road density is not an indicator of potential road kill, rather it is an indication of the ease at which humans can access wolf habitat to harass, trap or shoot them.
Research indicates that wolves were primarily extirpated from the northeastern United States by 1900. However, there have been a number of credible observations of wolves reported in the Northeast throughout the 20th century.
According to various reports, a single female wolf was killed in western Maine in 1993, and in 1996 a second wolf was trapped and killed in central Maine.
Another wolf-like caned was mistaken for a coyote and killed in 1997 in northern Vermont, and in 2001, a coyote hunter shot and killed a male wolf (85 lb.) in Day, NY.
In early 2002, an apparent wolf (64 lb.) was killed by a trapper in southeastern Quebec, less than 20 miles from the New Hampshire border, and in October 2006, a male wolf (91lb.) was shot in southern
Quebec, near a location where a wolf pack had been established.
These incidents, along with similar observations and physical evidence of large, unidentified 'dogs' in the northeast over recent years, has led some to believe wolves may actually be dispersing into the northeastern United States from habitat in southern Canada.
Many of these unidentified 'dogs' have exhibited characteristics consistent with an animal that ranges in size somewhere between the eastern coyote and the gray wolf.
Although it remains uncertain at this time, increasingly the scientific evidence suggests the historic wolf of the Northeast was more closely related to the red wolf than to the gray wolf.
According to reports, a recent Geographic Information System analysis that evaluated the potential for wolf dispersal from southern Quebec and Ontario into the northeastern United States found that sufficient suitable wolf habitat is available in the Adirondack Park region of New York and in Maine and northern New Hampshire.
Although there remain a number of potential dispersal corridors connecting existing wolf populations north of border with the expansive wolf habitat in Maine, New Hampshire and New York, there are also significant physical barriers to such a dispersal, including the St. Lawrence River, several four lane highways, rail lines, and dense human developments that may prohibit the movement of a sufficient number of wolves from Canada into Maine.
A study on the feasibility of wolf reintroduction in the Adirondacks, conducted in 1999, revealed the habitat was suitable for sustaining a small population of gray wolves.
However, due to the park's fragmented nature, and the lack of wild corridors linking occupied wolf areas to the north; it was determined that wolves would not be able to establish a viable, breeding population without periodic human intervention. The study concluded that ecological conditions dictated against the successful reintroduction of gray wolves.
Yet, stories and reports of wolves persist and continue to circulate. Despite evidence to the contrary, we want to believe them. We want to believe there are still wolves and cougars out there; we want our woods to remain dangerous and mysterious.
In some manner, this belief makes us brave, strong and daring. If there are still wild animals stalking the local woods, our forest forays are no longer just a simple walk in the park; they become an adventure. We all need the excitement.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org