ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN) — A DNA test has confirmed that an animal shot in the Greater Capital Region last December was a gray wolf. While data has shown that some coyotes in the northeast are part-wolf, the DNA of the 85-pound animal killed in Central New York was 99% wolf—a mixture of Great Lakes, Northwest Territories, and eastern gray wolf, according to the results of a DNA test released Tuesday.
Joseph Butera, a member of the Northeast Ecological Recovery Society, a not-for-profit that advocates for the restoration of native species in the Northeast, coordinated the DNA test after he saw the wolf on a hunter’s Facebook page. The hunter agreed to supply a tissue sample, which was tested by a lab at Trent University in Ohio.
The complex nature of the wolf’s DNA may be consistent with a wild wolf that made its way into New York from Canada, where various wolf populations are known to intermingle. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has long denied the presence of wolves.
“Many of my friends and neighbors in the Adirondacks where I live have spotted wolves there and I have seen canid tracks there much larger than that of a coyote,” said Butera. “How many more wolves have been killed or will be killed in New York State and the northeast if the NYSDEC claims that all of these large wolves are coywolves—hybrids that are predominantly coyotes—because they won’t acknowledge the DNA confirmation that we have wolves here?”
While gray wolves regained protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in February, they were not covered when the hunter shot the wolf in December. “It is past time for state and federal agencies to get their collective heads out of the sand by doing the research and by giving wolves in the Northeast the protection they are legally entitled,” said John Glowa, president and co-founder of the Maine Wolf Coalition.
It has been wrongly believed for some time, scientists said, that the St. Lawrence River and surrounding areas serve as a barrier to wolf dispersal. This animal is the latest of at least 11 wolves known to have been killed south of the river since 1993, including wolves killed in New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Maine, New Brunswick, and Quebec.
The Maine Wolf Coalition documented the first live eastern wolf in Maine through scat collected in 2019. There are tens of thousands of square miles of potential wolf habitat in the Northeast, much of it in New York, which makes the area ideal for wolf recovery. Wolves live just 60 miles north of New York’s border with Canada, a distance a wolf can travel in under two days.
“These results clearly show that wolves are making their way back into the Northeast, lands this magnificent species once called home,” said Amaroq Weiss, senior wolf advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “While it’s heartbreaking this wolf was killed, we’re grateful the hunter agreed to provide a tissue sample for DNA analysis. Now it’s time for state and federal leaders to step up and help these endangered and protected wolves return to the Northeast.”
NYSDEC has not yet responded to WTEN’s request for comment.