[This is the first of a three-part series considering the merits of restoring the Adirondack wolf. The two subsequent posts are “Economic and Social Reasons for Wolf Restoration” and “Return Wolves to Increase Public Safety“. Special thanks to Lake Placid based nature conservation photographer Larry Master (www.masterimages.org) for permission to feature his wolf photographs in this post.]
For New York’s Adirondack Park to be indisputably the wildest, healthiest landscape in the East, we need to welcome the “Adirondack Wolf” and Cougar back home. Although Adirondack forests have recovered beautifully from past destruction, and with them have returned Beaver, Fisher, Moose, and other once-extirpated species, our top predators have not yet returned in functional numbers. Still lacking their wild guardians, their original backcountry rangers, our forests are vulnerable to over-browsing by deer.
In short, carnivores are necessary for healthy ecosystems. Along with protecting wildlife habitat connections (wildways or wildlife corridors) within-the-Park and from-the-Park-to-wildlands-beyond, we can help ensure that the Adirondacks stay forever wild by restoring missing species, especially Cougar and Wolf.
How Do We Start?
As first steps, we should prevail upon the US Fish & Wildlife Service and New York Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct feasibility studies, which should look at the ecological, economic, and social effects of carnivore recovery.
Such restoration, I believe the studies would show, will benefit native fauna and flora – especially songbirds, salamanders, wildflowers, and tree seedlings – and will make the Park a more pleasant and safer place to live for people, too.
Without proposing a direct correlation between predator and prey numbers – Nature is more complex than that – I will suggest that restoring large carnivores and maintaining the big wild habitat cores and connections they need to thrive will benefit the ecology, economy, ethics, aesthetics, and health of the Adirondack Park and Northern Appalachians.
I made a pitch for Cougar recovery recently so, though I suspect that is the ideal species for rewilding efforts in the East – along with American Eel for waterways – I’ll focus largely on Wolves here. Later, I’ll address other extirpated or diminished species, including Harbor Seal, Landlocked Salmon, Lake and Brook Trout, Lake Sturgeon, Lynx, Elk …
Why the Adirondack Wolf?
Wolves are the consummate top predator in North America, serving as rangers or guardians of wild ecosystems by keeping herbivores from severely over-browsing or overgrazing plant communities. Wolves help keep White-tail and Mule Deer, Moose, Elk, and Caribou numbers from overshooting the carrying capacity of the land.
Equally important, Wolves keep the ungulates moving. With the return of Wolves, browsers become wary and mobile again, no longer lazily browsing lush areas (often decimating the wildflowers we humans like to see), but rather moving frequently – allowing plants to recover. This behavioral regulation of herbivores may be even more important than the numerical modification Wolves provide.
A healthy Adirondack Wolf population in the Northeast would probably mean slightly fewer deer in the Park and somewhat fewer Moose in Maine but stronger individuals and healthier plant communities.
Continue reading this Adirondack wolf series with the following posts:
Note: The content in this blog post was repurposed and a revised version is included in John Davis’s book Split Rock Wildway: Scouting the Adirondack Park’s Most Diverse Wildlife Corridor published by Essex Editions on Nov. 21, 2017. Learn more about the book and where to buy it at essexeditions.com. Watch the book trailer below.
- Roadkill: American Mink (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Spring Song: Frogs of the Adirondacks (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Restore the Adirondack Wolf (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Economic and Social Reasons for Wolf Restoration (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Misplaced Fear of Cougars (and Other Predators) (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- We Should Welcome Cougars Back (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- American Eels in the Lake Champlain Basin (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Songbird Mysteries (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Moose in the Adirondacks (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)
- Split Rock Wildway: Creating and Protecting a Wildlife Corridor (www.essexonlakechamplain.com)