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Are there Wolves in the Northeast?

Wolves once roamed the U.S. from sea to shining sea in the United States. But slaughter by humans brought wolves to the brink of extinction. In recent decades, reintroduction and conservation efforts have revived gray wolf populations in some regions. And now, despite political barriers and substantial distances, wolves are advancing to their historic territories on their own. 

Over the past 20 years, officials have documented a number of notable epic treks. Just to name a few:

Are Wolves Present in New York?

Over three centuries, as the great eastern forest was turned into farmland, wolves were shot, poisoned, trapped, and burned. By the mid-1800s, wolves were eliminated in northern Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. By 1900, they were gone from the Adirondacks.

Although the howl of the wolf has been mostly silent in the Northeast for over a hundred years, individual wild wolves have ventured into the northeastern United States. Given the close proximity of wolf populations in Canada and the Great Lakes and the vast dispersal distances covered by wolves,  it is not surprising that wolves have dispersed into Northeast states too, including New York. 

Unfortunately, because the Northeast states sanction policies that encourage the killing of coyotes, the evidence of gray wolf presence in the Northeast consists primarily of documented killings of wolves. 

Gray Wolves Documented in the Northeast States

The following is a list of some of the documented cases of gray wolves in Northeast states since 1990:

  • In September 1993, a gray wolf was shot and killed near Moosehead Lake in Maine. Later DNA analysis confirmed that the animal was a wolf.
  • In 1996, a possible wolf was trapped and killed near Bangor, Maine. Later DNA analysis revealed that the animal was a wolf with evidence of coyote hybridization. 
  • In November 1998, a wolf was shot and killed in Glover, Vermont.  The animal’s DNA matched that of wolf populations in the Northeast United States and in Canada.
  • On December 19, 2001, a wolf was shot and killed in Day, New York by a hunter who claimed that he thought the animal was a coyote.  Later laboratory and DNA analysis confirmed the animal was a gray wolf.
  • On April 12, 2005, a wolf was shot and killed in Sterling, New York. DNA analysis confirmed the animal was likely a wolf.
  • In 2005, canid scat was collected near Rangeley, Maine, that was analyzed and identified as consistent with gray wolf DNA.
  • On October 1, 2006, a hunter shot and killed a wolf in North Troy, Vermont.   Although the hunter asserted that he thought he was shooting at a coyote, an investigation by the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department identified it as a gray wolf.
  • On October 13, 2007, a wolf was shot and killed in Shelbourne, Massachusetts.  DNA analysis identified the animal as an eastern gray wolf.

Given the large swaths of uninhabited forestland in Maine and in the Northeast as a whole, it is likely that these documented wolf killings and sightings represent only a fraction of the wolves actually present in the Northeast.  For every chance encounter listed above, there is likely an additional number of wolves that are present but remain undocumented.  It has been noted by the scientific community that “occasional dispersing wolves have been documented in several states in the western, midwestern, and northeastern US. Given that many of these wolves are not collared, there is inherent uncertainty as to occupancy status in these areas in the period between initial exploratory dispersals and first establishment of a breeding pair.” (Carlos Carroll 2019)

These events, which frequently have ended in the dispersing wolves being shot, highlight the need for continued federal protections and recovery planning to increase the odds for dispersing wolves to survive and recolonize former terrain.