Wolves once roamed the globe, and they have had a very complicated relationship with humans for a long time. In North America, they once roamed the arctic tundra as far as Mexico. But since the European colonization of North America, they have lost much of their habitat and have been the subject of extensive extermination programs. Today they are returning to their old ranges – now apparently including upstate New York.
As they expand into the Adirondacks, there’s a slim chance of actually seeing them in real life. If one wishes to see wolves in the wild, the best hotspot is Yellowstone National Park. Alternatively, wolves can be seen at various conservation centers across the country.
Expiration and repopulation of wolves in the United States
Today, the gray wolf has been largely extirpated from much of the lower 48. In 1973, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the northern Rocky Mountain wolf as endangered.
- Cut: Males weigh between 100 and 130 pounds and females between 80 and 110 pounds.
Famously, the best place to see gray wolves in the contiguous United States is Yellowstone National Park – where they were successfully reintroduced between 1995 and 1997. Currently, Colorado is also reintroducing wolves to the Rocky Mountains (because they don’t ‘have been unable to expand their range naturally as they can be legally culled outside Wyoming National Park).
But like in Europe, with a better understanding of animals and protections in many places, they are expanding their range. Wolves have repopulated parts of the Midwestern United States, particularly in the Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
Wolves have fared much better in Canada, still living in about 80% of their historic range (the country has about 50,000 to 80,000 wolves). Globally, the wolf population is estimated at around 300,000. The Greater Yellowstone ecosystem had about 528 gray wolves in 2015, according to the National Park Service.
Return of the Gray Wolves to the Adirondacks
Wolves were driven to extinction in the Adirondacks by deforestation and unregulated hunting.
Wolves are also naturally returning to upstate New York. There are now reports of wolves starting to return to the Adirondacks. It’s now official that the gray wolf has been spotted in the Adirondacks for the first time since the turn of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the Adirondack wolves were found after a hunter shot one by mistake (it’s easy to confuse wolves with coyotes). He was then DNA tested.
Officially, the gray wolf is listed as an endangered species in New York State. As late as 2019 there had been suggestions to reclassify it in status as “extinct”.
Don’t let that deter anyone from hiking the Adirondacks. Wolves are generally not dangerous. They are wondrous animals that have long evoked thoughts and emotions of mysticism, power, nobility, power, and (of course) fear.
Many people may be apprehensive about wolves returning to New York. Many more will be happy to be back home. The main thing is that no one has to be afraid of the magnificent animals.
National Park Service safety tips around wolves
Several million people live with wolves around the world without any problems. Wolves do not normally pose a danger to people – in the Yellowstone hotspot; there was never a wolf-human attack.
One of the most important things is not to feed wolves (as a general rule, never feed wildlife). If wolves become habituated to people, they may need to be put down (two habituated wolves have been killed in Yellowstone in the past).
National Park Service guidelines are as follows:
- Stay away: Stay at least 100 meters away from wolves at all times
- Inform the authorities: If wolves are seen near developed areas or approaching people, notify the appropriate authorities
- Keep dogs on a leash: If you know there are wolves, keep the dog on a leash
If there is the possibility that a wolf is too close or shows no signs of being afraid of people, then stand up straight and hold your ground. If someone is approached by a wolf, wave your arms, shout and flame their jacket. If that doesn’t work, use bear spray (if you have it) or throw something on it.