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DEC's Wolf Scheming

By Carol W. LaGrasse

You'd never know from the public face of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, that its top brass are working on restoring a substantial population of wolves to New York State and the Northeast. While the public focuses on matters of concern such as DEC's proposed deer management policies or proposals to close fish hatcheries, specialized staff at DEC labor away to lay the foundation for wolf restoration throughout New York State. Starting with the Adirondack region, the idea is that in the not-distant future wolves will roam about the Northeast and migrate freely southward along the Appalachian Mountain chain.

By chance I learned about two important documents: the 400-plus-page August 2010 DEC Strategic Plan for the State Forests outside the forest preserves, published only on the web and CD, and a 110-page letter dated June 10, 2011 from then DEC Assistant Commissioner Christopher A. Amato to the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service debating the taxonomy of wolves that could range in the northeastern United States.

The strategic plan for the 786,000 acres of 442 state forests outside the forest preserves was noteworthy in that its main point, aside from the clarity with which it pronounces numerous elaborations foreclosing the possibility that the state forests could in the future be viewed as an economic asset (as was the reason for establishing them), is that these forests should be connected and interconnected with each other and the forest preserves, as well with blocks of significant forested lands in bordering states and Canada. The plan cites "projects that target identification of linkages between large forested landscapes within New York and the broader region of eastern North America, including southern Canada and the Appalachian region to the northeast and south."

According to the plan, these forested corridors are basically for protection of species from that now-familiar bogeyman, Global Warming, and for uninterrupted movement of species, "especially wide-ranging and highly mobile species," code words for predators such as mountain lions and wolves.

The plan concludes that "DEC and not-for-profit partners in land conservation should adopt strategies to provide greater forest continuity along LCP's (least cost paths) through the acquisition of conservation easements along with fee purchases."

The least cost paths "should be managed to create, maintain and enhance their forest cover characteristics that are most beneficial to the priority species that may use them." The plan states that "the greatest restrictions to species movement along those corridors are paved and gravel public highways, agricultural fields and permanent fragmentation created by subdivisions and development." This should be another in a series of warnings to the agricultural industry to beware of selling conservation easements for farmland protection or wildlife corridors to land trusts or the government.

The 2011 DEC letter was devoted to persuading the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to discard its classification of a new species of wolf with a range in the United States and Canada, including New York State. The FWS had been classifying these eastern wolves as a subspecies of the gray wolf, canis lupus, namely canis lupus lycaon. But, in addition to dropping endangered species protection of canis lupus from 29 states, including New York, the FWS also concluded that the wolves that ranged in New York State were a distinct species, namely canis lycaon. The FWS eliminated the subspecies canis lupus lycaon in favor of the new species, for which FWS would then initiate a range-wide assessment, e.g., leaving the newly classified species canis lycaon without federal protection, at least for now.

The DEC lamented that the FWS would "establish a new National Wolf Strategy that is based on significant and far-reaching changes to longstanding principles of wolf taxonomy, would leave wolves in the Northeast without any federal protection, and would essentially abandon the possibility of wolf recovery in the Northeast."

If the DEC has its way, the FWS would consent to developing "a national strategy for wolf recovery that reflects the most recent genetic and taxonomic information and addresses wolf recovery throughout a significant portion of its historic range."

It is possible that if the federal government became active in this vision of DEC, a great deal of state moneys could be saved by leaving wolf reintroduction endangered species enforcement to the feds. DEC could continue to be the good guy.

Until December, I was not aware of any instance where this scheming was revealed publicly. Only in these obscure documents was the DEC frustration with the federal government's abandonment of wolf recovery in the Northeast and DEC's commitment to wolf recovery throughout a significant portion of its historic range made clear. However, in an Associated Press article on New Year's Eve, Mr. Amato was quoted expressing his vision of wolf restoration to New York State:

Referring to wolf hunting in Montana and Idaho and to the federal policy that "it's not the government's job to return wolves to their previous range as long as the population is stable," authors John Flesher and Matthew Brown wrote:

"Some scientists and advocates say the hunts show what will happen when safeguards are lifted elsewhere. The government, they say, is abandoning the recovery effort too soon, before packs can take hold in new areas. Vast new territories in the southern Rockies and Northeast are ripe for wolves but unoccupied," they wrote.

"The habitat is there. The prey is there. Why not give them the chance?" said Chris Amato, New York's, according to the article.

A few weeks earlier, Mr. Amato had already resigned from his position as DEC assistant commissioner for natural resources, where he held a position overseeing much of the forest preserve management policy, apparently taking a hardline green, anti-access possession, judging by the pride with which he spoke of the achievement of the new management plan for the Moose River Plains in the Adirondack Forest Preserve (where many hunting camps were eliminated and a much of the formerly "wild forest" land was reclassified to "wilderness" over widespread public protest.)

However, the radical DEC wolf policies have continuity. Green wildlife advocates are starting to try to sweet-talk and intimidate hunters into accepting the idea of mountain lion and wolf restoration with wildlife corridors to facilitate their migration from New York to Maine and beyond into Canada. Early in February, sports columnist Joe Hackett wrote an advocacy piece, "Cat talk on a cold day." for Denton Publications reflecting on a naturalist Sue Morse's talk in Whallonsburg on bobcats, sponsored by the Northeast Wilderness Trust.

Even before there was any public reaction against wolf restoration and the related forested wildlife corridors, he lashed into potential critics of wildlife corridors:

"Certainly there are going to be critics, naysayers and non-believers who will cast doubt on the concept of megalinks and wildlife corridors. Who's going to believe that moose, bear, deer or wildcats, are going to return to follow in the tracks of their forebears," he asked rhetorically.

Finally, two-thirds of the way through his article, after discussing hawks, songbirds, waterfowl, mink, otter, beaver, whitetail deer, fisher, bobcats, and rattlesnakes, he alluded to the potentially key function of the ambitious system of wildlife corridors: "In just the past two years, wildlife biologists have confirmed the presence of wild mountain [lion] and wild wolf having returned to the region."

Mr. Hackett failed to differentiate the obvious potential beneficial and the negative implications offered by deer and wolves; e.g., to consider just one of many radical negative impacts, the latter could decimate the former and thereby precipitously reduce the hunt enjoyed by those who regularly read his column. This omission and his ad hominem attack on potential opponents as mere naysayers is symptomatic of buying into the dishonesty of the radical green authorities whose thinking is so solidly established inside the New York State DEC.

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