Return of the Wolf Population to New England

Vincent Graziano

May 6, 2010

 

 

 

 

Abstract

Wolves have roamed the U.S. for thousands of years (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  They were the dominant apex predator keeping other populations under control until the arrival of the first U.S. settlers who began to exterminate them (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  There are three main types of wolves in the U.S. today; they are the gray wolf, eastern wolf, and red wolf.  The main wolf making up around 95% of the population is the gray wolf (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2002).  The red wolf has a population of around 100 individuals in North Carolina (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).  The eastern wolf is a gray wolf coyote hybrid; this is the wolf that will likely inhabit New England (Wilson, 2009).  It is important for New Englanders to realize that wolves are not naturally aggressive towards humans.  In all likelihood the only time a wolf would threaten a human would be if the wolf had been frequently feed by humans and now associates humans with food; in biology this is known as habituation (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).

 

 

General Overview of The Wolf in the U.S.

Gray wolves are estimated to have roamed the U.S. in numbers as high as the tens of thousands (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  That is until settlers came to the U.S. and began to eradicate them to the point of near extinction in the lower 48 states.  The historical home range of the Gray wolf consisted of every state excluding Hawaii and states where the red wolf was the top predator (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  The main reason for the disappearance of the gray wolf coincides with U.S. settlers.  At first U.S. settlers were indirectly responsible for the depletion of the gray wolf population (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  As the settlers began hunting deer, moose, elk, and bison the wolves began having less prey to hunt (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  With their natural food sources becoming scarcer wolves turned to the settlers' livestock.  After losing animals to the wolves the settlers began to hate wolves and would shoot them on sight.  This was the beginning of the decline of the wolf.  Wolves soon found a bounty on their heads.  Livestock owners and government agencies began to pay people for each wolf they killed and brought in.  At that time people would do just about anything to kill a wolf and make some money (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).

 

It is important to note that the reason for the decimation of the wolf population was not because settlers feared being attacked by wolves; it was because settlers did not want to lose their livestock to them (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  Today many people fear that if wolves are around they will not be able to go outside because they will be attacked.  The truth behind the matter is that wolves are tolerant of human activity and will stay away from humans whenever possible.  In all likelihood the only time a wolf would threaten a human would be if the wolf had been frequently feed by humans and now associates humans with food; in biology this is known as habituation (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  This could lead to a wolf attacking a human if the human did not produce food when they encountered the wolf.  This is highly unlikely and it is important to note that of the 27 reported incidents of wolves attacking humans in the U.S. none have been fatal.  There are cases in Europe and Canada where wolf attacks have been fatal but the wolves in these cases were found to be habituated.

 

 

Types of Wolves

There are three different types of wolves that are found throughout North America.  Wolves are a unique species when it comes to breeding.  They are able to breed with and produce fertile off-spring with other wolves, coyotes, and dogs (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).  This has lead to the creation of the eastern wolf and the near extinction of the red wolf (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).  The most abundant wolf is the gray wolf or Canis Lupus (Figure 2; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  When most people think of a wolf they will envision a gray wolf covered in snow and looking for its next meal.  It is important to note that there are other species designations of wolves such as the Canis Lycaon also known as the eastern wolf (Figure 3; Wilson, 2009).  The eastern wolf today is a hybridization of gray wolves and coyotes (Wilson, 2009).  It is believed to have begun the hybridization process around 10,000 years ago during the last glaciation (Wilson, 2009).  The third distinct type of wolf found in North America is very rare and is known as Canis Rufus or red wolf (Figure 4; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).  Wolves can vary in size from weighing as little as 50 pounds to as much as 175 pounds (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  Wolves live in packs whose size is determined by the availability of food (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  In Areas where food is plentiful such as Minnesota a wolf pack may only contain 4 to 8 individuals while in areas where food is scarcer such as Alaska packs may contain as many as 30 wolves (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  A small pack of 6 wolves may have a territory of 50 square miles while a large pack of 25 wolves may patrol a territory of 500 square miles (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).

 

 

 


Figure 2.  Gray Wolf
(Sartore, 2006)


Figure 3.  Eastern Wolf
(Runtz, 2000)

 


Figure 4.  Red Wolf
(Crawford, 2009)

 

Wolf Populations of the Past

Wolf populations of the past were large and defining on the ecosystem (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003b).  Before Europeans came to North America it was estimated that hundreds of thousands of wolves roamed the land (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  The gray wolf made its home in the mid to North Western part of the U.S. along with the mid to North Western part of Canada (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).  The eastern wolf made its home in the Eastern U.S. and Eastern Canada (Wilson, 2009).  The red wolf made its home in the Southeastern and Southwestern U.S. while also spreading down into Mexico (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009). It has been said that besides humans wolves were and are able to survive in almost all weather conditions as seen from their survival in both North Carolina and Alaska today (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003b).  With prey ample and space abound past populations of wolves had nothing to fear and they thrived (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003b).  Unfortunately as humans do, they began to change things when they arrived and greatly affected the wolf population throughout North America (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2003a).

 

 

Wolf Populations of the Present

The wolf populations of the U.S. today can not even compare to those of the past.  Currently there is an estimated population of 10,000 wolves roaming throughout the U.S. (Figure 5; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2002).  There are many areas that wolves currently inhabit and many that wolves will likely inhabit again in the future (Figure 6; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2009).  The majority of the wolves in the U.S. are located in Alaska and Minnesota (Figure 7; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2002).  There is one area of North America that is still wild and that is much of Canada.  The estimated wolf population of Canada contains 50,000 individuals (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003b).  This is great news for wolves because it shows that they still roam most of their homeland in Canada.  Unfortunately for the wolves as human's demands for nature's bounties increase habitat will be destroyed.  This is already happening in many areas in Canada today.  Examples are seen in the harvesting of large amounts of timber and the grinding up of tar sands for oil.  Many of the wolf populations in the U.S. today have been reintroduced such as the gray wolves in Yellowstone and the red wolves in North Carolina (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).  These wolves were reintroduced from zoo species in the case of the red wolves and Minnesota wolves in the case of the Yellowstone pack (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009).

 

 


Figure 5.  Gray wolf population in the U.S. by location.
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2002)

 


Figure 6. Current and likely future wolf habitat.
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2009)

 


Figure 7. Gray wolf population in the U.S. by percent.
(U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 2002)

 

Return of Wolves to New England

When people go into the outdoors of New England it should become apparent to them that they are surrounded by lush forests and plentiful animals.  These two things should also tell them that they are surrounded by beautiful wolf habitat.  All of New England is historical wolf habitat.  Currently there are no known breeding wolf packs in New England but on numerous occasions lone wolves have been spotted and captured or killed.  It is important for the New Englander to realize that wolves could again be making their home here and that there is no need to fear them.  Currently Vermont does not list the wolf as an indigenous species in the state (Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 2004).  Finally it is important to understand how quickly wolves can come back once they are allowed to.  When the gray wolf was reintroduced out west it rebounded very quickly where game was plentiful (Figure 8; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 1999).  This will likely be the case here in New England.

On the 21st of January 2009 President Obama issued a halt to publications of the Bush administration without further review (New West Boise, 2010).  One of these Bush era legislations was aimed at removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list.  This halt will allow the Obama administration time to examine the gray wolf and see if it is truly ready to be removed from the list.  The decision of the Obama administration to keep listed or delist the gray wolf could set a precedent for what could happen to wolves in New England.  If they decide to keep the gray wolf listed they might also list eastern wolves and begin protecting them in the Northeast.  This could lead to an unimpeded reintroduction of the wolf to New England.

 

 


Figure 8.  Gray Wolf Population Trends In The Lower 48 States, 1979-1999.  (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, 1999).

 

Here is a list of links to wolf sightings in New England.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/03/05/after_160_years_a_wild_gray_wolf_turns_up_in_mass/
http://www.nytimes.com/1996/12/22/us/signs-suggest-a-return-of-timber-wolf-to-maine.html?pagewanted=1
http://www.rutlandherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071010/NEWS04/710100398/1004/NEWS03
http://www.wickedlocal.com/wayland/news/x833724005/Wolves-in-New-England
http://endangered-species.suite101.com/article.cfm/wild_wolf_killed_in_massachusetts
http://www.maine.gov/ifw/wildlife/species/endangered_species/gray_wolf

 

 

Get Involved

Send this action letter To: Regional Director Marvin Moriarty, To: Deputy Regional Director Wendi Weber, To: Regional Scientist Richard O. Bennett, Ph.D.

Send this action letter To: Vermont Natural Heritage Information Project Coordinator Steve Parren.

 

 

Reference List

First People and Burke, Paul, no date.  Gray Wolf Pup - Quebec.  Retrieved on 2 February 2010, from http://www.firstpeople.us/FP-Html-Pictures/wolves_pg1.html.

Holden , Ed, 2005.  Vermont Camping.  Retrieved on 29 April 2010, from http://www.edholden.com/wallpaper/nature.php.

New West Boise, 2010.  President Obama Halts Wolf Delisting.  Retrieved on 4 May 2010, from http://www.newwest.net/city/article/president_obama_halts_wolf_delisting/C108/L108/.

Sartore, Joel, 2006.  Gray Wolf Wallpaper, National Geographic.  Retrieved on 28 January 2010, from http://www.wallpapernow.net/gray-wolf-wallpaper.html.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1999.  Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery.  Retrieved on 4 May 2010 from http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/annualrpt99/. NEW GRAPH

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2002.  Gray Wolf Population in the United States.  Retrieved on 16 February 2010, from http://www.fws.gov/northeast/graywolf/wolfpops.pdf.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003a.  Gray Wolf.  Retrieved on 16 February 2010, from http://www.fws.gov/Northeast/graywolf/wolfbio.pdf.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2003b.  Wolf Recovery in North America.  Retrieved on 5 March 2010, from http://www.fws.gov/northeast/graywolf/factshee.pdf.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Crawford, Barron, 2009.  Red Wolf Pictures and Art. Retrieved on 11 February 2010, from http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/rwpics.html.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009. Gray Wolf. Retrieved 30 March 2010, from http://www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf/archives/2000proposal/2000dpsmap.htm.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 2009.  Top Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions about Red Wolves and the Red Wolf Recovery Program.  Retrieved on 5 March 2010, from http://www.fws.gov/redwolf/topten.html.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, 2004.  Big Game Species.  Retrieved on 9 March 2010, from http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/wildlife_biggame.cfm.

Wilson and Runtz 2009.  Eastern Wolf  Research.  Retrieved 28 January 2010, from http://web.nrdpfc.ca/eastern_wolves/Origins_%26_Hybridization.html.