What's in the Woods? Part 2
There's a lot of wildlife hanging out in the woods of maine bear, moose, fox, coyotes, and deer readily come to mind.
Some in our state say it also includes two animals that officials say aren't here ... the cougar and the wolf.
But are those two predators are really roaming the same trails many of us take advantage of?
In the last 15 years, there have been a couple of documented cases of wolves in our state.
They were here in the past, but could there be a larger population than we think?
The experts disagree.
"In 30 years, with field crews living year round in the most remote areas of Maine, we have seen one suspected wolf track in all those experiences," said Dr. Dan Harrison, a Professor of Wildlife Ecology at the University of Maine. He has spent the past three decades researching, tagging, and tracking the animals that thrive in our forests and fields.
While wolves were here, he doesn't think they are here now. "Historically, Maine was wolf habitat and there are viable wolf populations just literally two days walk for a wolf north of Maine just across the Saint Lawrence river. The problem is that we fracture that matrix via the Saint Lawrence Seaway and ice is broken on a daily basis all winter which is the dispersal period for wolves so it's very difficult for a population of wolves to move to Maine although individuals do occasionally move into the state."
John Glowa is the founder of the Maine Wolf Coalition. His group wants to see wolves naturally recolonize in the state. He doesn't buy the argument that development near the Maine border with Canada is a deterrent for dispersal. " A wolf that was killed in Indiana either went through or around Chicago. Wolves have been documented to disperse more than 500 miles." "So those who say that wolves can't cross the Saint Lawrence, can't cross the highways, that the area's too developed, really the wolves are proving the scientists wrong. Wolves are showing up in places where they never were expected a few years ago and there's absolutely no reason to think that they can't be here as well."
Glowa says in the last 16 years, seven wolves have been confirmed in the Northeast US, from Maine to New York, and that gives him reason to believe a breeding population is already established. "Well it's not a lot of wolves, but the question we're asking is how many wolves have to be killed before the federal and state governments actually take actions to protect these animals? They are protected by federal law." "Coyotes were moving into the state for decades and it wasn't until the 50's, 60's that the State actually acknowledged their presence here so we think the same thing is happening here with wolves as well. They're moving into the state, there's no doubt about that, the problem is that neither the state nor federal government are really looking for them and certainly if you're not going to look for something you're not going to find it."
But Dr. Harrison says with the amount of moose in this state, wolves would fill a void in the food chain. "The Eastern coyote does not fit fully the niche, the historic niche of the Eastern wolf and there's really very few places where you have moose densities like we have without a large canid predator that would take advantage of that prey so biologically certainly we can support wolves. The question is whether humans want wolves in their environment."
With the encouragement by the state to shoot coyotes, Glowa thinks it might often be a case of mistaken identity and wolves are shot instead. "Have you heard of the three S's, shoot, shovel and shut up, that philosophy is certainly alive and well and it would come as no surprise if a significant number of other wolves were killed and simply not reported. Anybody who kills a wolf today and reports it is a fool because it's a violation of federal law."
In Part Two of this Special Report we'll take a look at the existence of Cougars in Maine and we'll hear from one man who says he saw one in Baxter State Park.