Spring 2003

The Reintroduction of Wolves to the Adirondacks

By reinstating the wolf in the Adirondacks, are we creating super hybrid coyote-wolves?

By Kaidian Smith



The heavy logging in Algonquin Park during the 1840s caused deer to move in, and the gray wolves were force to head north. There are many debates about the pros and cons of the reintroduction of wolves into the Adirondacks.

The Defenders of Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are committed to the return of wolves of the Northern and Eastern variety, also known as Canis Lycaon, to be released in the Adirondacks, because they were wiped out in the northeast.

The very survival of the wolf depends on having a sufficient number of wolf populations that are large enough to provide for the continuing viability of the species. Second, wolf restoration is necessary to return a measure of ecological integrity to at least some representative examples of native ecosystems, restoring lost biological balance. Third, continuing wolf restoration makes the economic, recreational, spiritual and aesthetic benefits of wild wolf populations accessible to as many Americans as possible. For these reasons, Defenders of Wildlife seeks the fullest practical restoration of wolves in the lower 48 states.

However, according to recent DNA research conducted by scientists at Trent University in Ontario and the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, Eastern coyotes are actually wolf-coyote hybrids. This crossbreeding most likely took place in southeastern Canada in the early 1900s. Researchers cited the lack of a wildlife corridor between the Adirondacks and Canada's Algonquin Park as a possible reason for the hybridization between the Algonquin wolf (a kind of red wolf) and Eastern coyote. The DNA analysis of the last wolf shot in the Adirondacks, bagged by Reuben Cary in 1893, reveals it to be the smaller Algonquin wolf of southeastern Canada. Geneticists have placed the canid in the same species as the red wolf of the eastern Untied States. Red wolves weigh from 55-65 pounds and rely on deer and beaver for food, and they are the only known wolves to breed with coyotes.

In the late 1980s, red wolves were restored to the Alligator River area of eastern North Carolina, a region where coyote densities were the lowest in the state. However, ten years later, biologists reported that 20 percent of these wolves had already bred with coyotes and that in two decades the wolves would cease to exist as a distinct species unless radical measures were taken, such as removing every coyote seen miles around.

Coyotes have been entrenched in the Adirondacks since at least the 1930s. They are extremely resourceful and can be almost impossible to get rid of. Also, studies show that newly released animals' travel widely and with a network of roads in the Adirondacks there would be casualties. Trappers at the North Bay (Ontario) Fur Auction are complaining because the gray wolf pelts they are bringing in are smaller and being graded as eastern Canadian wolves, which are worth only a third of the gray.

Prominent wolf biologist David Mech of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has stated unequivocally that wolves can survive in the Adirondacks. Some arguments are that the coyote doesn't fill the same niche as the wolf, and that there are enough wolves dispersing to the Adirondacks to provide a fresh gene flow to a restored population, thus preventing probable genetic depression. Two initiatives underway to safeguard and enhance the interchange of wolf genes are to protect all the crucial wildlife corridors between Algonquin Park in Ontario and the Adirondack Park.

Are we being over-run by hybrid coyote-wolves?


Genetic Eastern Wolf Findings:

In a laboratory located at the University of Trent, Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, Dr. Bradley White and his associates have spent the last four years collecting 2,043 wild canids to analyze their genetic makeup. These specimens have come from throughout Ontario, New York, and northern New England. He used as control groups coyote DNA from Texas and gray wolf DNA from Canada's northwest territories. Below are some of his findings.

Algonquin Park wolves are not small versions of gray wolves, but they are identical to red wolves. They find that there are thousands of Algonquin - red wolves.
Eastern Canadian wolves evolved in North America along with the coyote while gray wolves evolved in Asia then crossed over to North America. The small eastern Canadian coyote wolves are the only ones that mate with coyotes in the wild.

In Ontario's Algonquin Park, the Eastern Canadian wolf is holding its own, but to the south they interbreed with coyotes. At the northern end of the park and beyond, they mate with gray wolves. The results are large coyotes (from the mix) and smaller gray wolves where both wolves' territories overlap.

By using skull size and two DNA markers, researchers can trace the ancestry of the specimens and even tell with a hybrid if it was the result of a male wolf mating with a female coyote or visa versa.

So far in overlapping areas it is still the male wolf breeding with a female coyote, and the off spring if they stay in a wolf pack are subservient because size matters and these hybrids are smaller than pure wolves. If there was a change and dominant female wolves bred with male coyotes, there could be major problems within the wolf pack structure because the size of the offspring would be more uniformed.

To the north of Algonquin Park, the female Eastern Canadian wolf seems to be mating with the male gray wolves, so there hasn't been a drastic drop-off in size, since some of these big gray wolves weigh well over one hundred pounds. They are predators of moose and caribou. The Eastern Canadian wolf weighs on average 50-70 pounds, and they hunt smaller pray like deer and beavers.

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