MONTPELIER, Vt. — The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is refusing to provide special protection for wolves in five Northeastern states where there has not been a known breeding population for more than 100 years, but where occasional wild wolves, believed to have made it into the region from Canada, are found.
In a decision published Thursday, the Wildlife Service rejected a petition filed by a handful of wolf advocates saying it would not give wolves in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine or Massachusetts status as a distinct population since they already are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
“The gray wolf is already listed as endangered. The petitioners tried to use a trickle of wolves and wolflike canids to say that there’s an endangered population segment,” said Michael Amaral, a senior endangered species biologist with the Wildlife Service based in Concord, N.H. “We can’t accept that evidence as substantiating information that we have a threatened or endangered population of animals on the ground here.”
But the petitioners argued there are wolves in the region, and the federal government needs to do more to help revive the species.
“The bottom line is we wanted the federal government to recognize that there are wolves in the Northeast,” said Walter Pepperell II of Middletown Springs, Vt. “They are returning, and they are getting killed. All we have over the years to show for our efforts is seven or eight dead wolves.”
Amaral doesn’t dispute that occasional wolves have been found in the region. The most recent example came from late 2007 when a wolf was shot in Shelburne, Mass. DNA tests confirmed it came from northern Canada. Other examples are less certain: DNA tests from suspected wolf carcasses don’t match known wild populations or there is other evidence the animals had lived in captivity.
The wolves that do make it to the region are believed to be dispersing males that somehow crossed the St. Lawrence River from northern Canada and found their way into the wilds of southern Quebec and New England.
Maine, New Hampshire and New York’s Adirondacks have vast tracks of forest that are prime wolf habitat loaded with deer, moose and other prey, but the animals were eliminated from the region more than a century ago by people.
Efforts to reintroduce wolves failed.
Wolves that make it back to the region don’t warrant special protection until there is a breeding population, Amaral said. Federal rules define a breeding population as two pairs of wolves that raise at least two young each for two consecutive years.
Amaral said wolves in three areas of the country have been declared as distinct populations — in the southwest, the northern Rocky Mountains and the northern Great Lakes — requiring the Wildlife Service to work to revive the species.
If wolves do manage to form a breeding population in the Northeast on their own, the Wildlife Service will look at the issue again, Amaral said.
“We would either reconsider it on our own, or more than likely we’d be petitioned to do so,” he said.