Princeton DNA analysis finds New York animal was a wolf

gray wolf
File photo of a gray wolf, Canis lupus. Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service/J&K Hollingsworth

DEC releases its genetic report

By Mike Lynch

A Princeton University DNA examination found a canid killed by a hunter near Cooperstown was a gray wolf.

This is the second independent test that has come to this conclusion regarding an 85-pound canid killed in December. The Princeton results contrast with findings from the lab hired by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and arrive days after 38 individuals from state and national organizations wrote to the DEC urging action to protect wolves that are potentially living in New York State or dispersing here.

“What the DEC needs to do based upon this second confirmation is that they need to do more to educate people across New York that wolves are coming into the state, and the wolves that come into the state are entitled to the protections under the Endangered Species Act,” said Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks.

Wildlife advocates have called for the DEC to revise and restrict coyote hunting regulations, in addition to educating hunters about wolves and coyotes. There are no limits on how many coyotes hunters kill during the season that runs 24 hours per day from October 1 to March 26. Wolf advocates say hunters may be killing wolves that are misidentified as coyotes.

Bauer also said the DEC should release specifics about the test it had performed by the Wildlife Genetics Institute at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania. DEC has said that analysis determined the animal to be “closely identified as an eastern coyote,” with a mix of coyote, wolf, and dog genetics.

The Explorer submitted a Freedom of Information Law request for that report in August and Bauer said Protect submitted a request shortly after the first test results were released in July. The state provided the Explorer with a copy of the report Wednesday afternoon.

The report, which can be found above, determined the animal to be an eastern coyote, “a natural hybrid of wolves.” It determined that the canid’s maternal lineage was 99.9 percent coyote. However, it found that the animal was 65.2% wolf and 34.8% coyote.

Wolves disappeared from New York State around 1900 due to habitat loss and because they were targeted by hunters and bounties. At least two dead wolves have been found here over the years, including one in the southern Adirondacks in 2001 and one in Sterling in 2005. Both were killed by hunters.

They are now listed as an endangered species in New York based on their historical presence. People are not allowed to kill them without a permit. DEC has said they don’t anticipate pursuing charges against the Central New York hunter, who has remained anonymous. Wolves are also protected by federal policies.

Wolf populations exist north of New York state in Canada and to the west in Michigan and Wisconsin. They are found in 11 states overall.

Wolves, which disperse to start their own packs, have been known to travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory.

A species assessment conducted by the DEC has determined that the Adirondack Park has 6,000 square miles of suitable habitat for the wolf.

In July, the Natural Resources DNA Profiling & Forensic Center at Trent University in Ontario released its genetic analysis of the Central New York wolf and found the animal to be 98% gray wolf.

The Trent University analysis determined the animal was 52.6% Great Lakes wolf, 34.5% Northwest Territories wolf and 10.9% eastern wolf. The remaining 2% was a mix of coyote and dog genes.

The Princeton analysis determined the animal to be 96.2% Great Lakes gray wolf, 1.6% gray wolf, and 1.4% eastern wolf. Dog and coyote DNA made up less than 1% each.

These results aren’t last on this animal. DEC has also submitted a sample from this canid to the Princeton lab for genetic testing and expects results in early October. The department has told the Explorer it plans to do further testing on the animal to determine if it is wild or captive should its test identify the animal as a wolf.

Tissue samples used in this latest test were submitted by Joe Butera, who heads the nonprofit Northeastern Ecological Recovery Society, on behalf of several organizations that have banded together over this cause.

“Apex predator populations are crucial to healthy ecosystems,” states the recent letter to DEC. “The absence of highly interactive species that are key to maintaining habitat and other natural functions, such as wolves and cougars, has left a functional void in our ecosystems that has degraded overall environmental quality.”