New York Status: Extirpated
Federal Status: Endangered
The wolf, including the eastern subspecies, the eastern timber wolf (Canis lupus lycaon), is a large animal. Adults weigh 50-l00 pounds (23-46 kg). Males are generally heavier than females. Coloring is usually a mixed gray or grizzly color, though a few are black or white. Wolves appear quite similar to large German shepherd dogs. They have a pointed muzzle, erect pointed ears, bushy tails and moderately long legs.
Wolves usually live in family groups or packs of 2-8 individuals, though some packs contain 20 or more members. Packs are territorial, frequenting areas of 20-200+ square miles (51-555+ sq km). A dominance hierarchy exists within each pack. Generally, only the dominant male and female breed, though exceptions exist. Pups are born from early April to early May. Litter size ranges from 4-7. Offspring remain within the pack or move out to become "lone wolves." These individuals are nomadic, some living in areas over 1,000 square miles in size. If a member of the opposite sex is encountered and suitable range exists, the pair may start a pack of their own.
Prey species include deer, moose, beaver, and sometimes domestic livestock and pets. Generally, wolves target the easiest prey including the old, weak, sick or disabled individuals. Wolves are not normally detrimental to populations of prey species. However, some studies in Alaska with caribou and in northern Minnesota with deer indicate that wolves have eliminated or are limiting their prey in parts of their range.
Distribution and Habitat
Wolves originally occurred over much of North America, ranging from the Arctic in the north to the middle of Mexico in the south. They were only absent from the southeast and desert regions of the continent. The eastern timber wolf, one of 37 subspecies of wolves, was found throughout the eastern United States and southeastern Canada.
Today, the eastern timber wolf is found only in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, three percent of its original U. S. range. It is still relatively common in much of its original Canadian range.
Wolves were perceived as a threat to the lives and livelihood of settlers since earliest colonial times. The Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay colonies waged war on wolves in 1631. Consequently, they were hunted and trapped relentlessly until they eventually disappeared from most of the United States. Only in recent decades have public attitudes changed some. Since the beginning of the conservation movement at the turn of the century, people have become increasingly interested in wilderness preservation and the conservation and restoration of wildlife species frequenting these areas. To many, large predators such as wolves and mountain lions epitomize the wilderness state, symbolic of the wildest conditions. Aldo Leopold, the father of modern wildlife management, espoused this "land ethic" in the 1930's and 40's. Wolf preservation and management efforts were enhanced in 1973 with the passage of the Endangered Species Act. Today, populations in the upper midwest are doing well, and it is expected that the wolf will be removed from the Endangered Species list by 2005.
The history of wolves in New York is by no means clear, although it seems reasonable to assume that they were once present. We know of only one museum specimen of a wolf taken from New York State. Since we have not checked the accuracy of that identification and are without a substantial body of physical evidence to work with, we cannot be sure how many animals historically reported as wolves were indeed wolves. It is possible that the animals we call coyotes were considered wolves by early settlers and that some portion of historic wolf accounts may have been attributed to the wrong species.
New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation has a long and proud history of restoring native species when it is both biologically feasible and socially acceptable to do so. It is not clear that a wolf population could survive in New York given the abundance of highways and our large human population. Nor is it clear that having wolves in the woods of northern New York would be compatible with the interests of residents or the farmers that live on the periphery of that region. For these reasons, DEC does not believe that wolf restoration warrants serious consideration at this time.
Management and Research Needs
The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service published the Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf in January 1992. The original plan was approved in 1978. The current plan represents a major effort by the Eastern Timber Wolf Recovery Team; with it they hope to secure the future of this species.
Engelhart, S. E. and K. Hazard. 1975. Wolves in the Adirondacks. The Conservationist, October-November.
Godin, A. J. 1977. Wild mammals of New England. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London. Pp. 280-282.
Peek, J. M., D. E. Brown, S. R. Kellert, L. D. Mech, J. H. Shaw and V. V. Ballenberghe. 1991. Restoration of Wolves in North America. The Wildlife Society, Tech. Review 91-1, Bethesda, Maryland.
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1992. Recovery Plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf. Twin Cities, Minnesota. 73 pp.