Wolf Scat Discovered In Maine After Scientists Test DNA

Nov 6, 2020

For the first time in almost a quarter century, there is new evidence that a wild wolf was in Maine as recently as last summer.

Advocates for the species say that builds a case that wolves should receive more protections, even as the federal government is weakening them.

John Glowa is executive director of the Maine Wolf Coalition, which has been conducting a citizen science project to analyze scat from wild canines, whether wolves, coyotes or some combination, in Maine’s northern woods.

DNA extracted from one sample collected near the Canada border last summer was examined by U.S. and Canadian scientists. The results showed the animal was 85 percent wolf.

“This will be the first documented case, through DNA, of a live eastern wolf in the U.S.,” Glowa says.

It’s the first evidence of any wolf presence in Maine since the 1990s, when two wolves were killed here. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service does not differentiate between gray wolves, whose population has been rebounding in recent decades, and the eastern wolf.

But Glowa says Canada does make the distinction, and that the animal that traveled through Maine was likely related to a wild wolf population based north of the border, which are slightly smaller than gray wolves centered in the Great Lakes region.

“There are perhaps a few thousand of them. But the center of their population is around Algonquin Park (in Ontario); their range does extend south somewhat and east somewhat into Quebec,” he says.

Earlier this week, federal wildlife officials removed most wolves from protection under the Endangered Species Act, turning over their management to the states and tribes. Conservation groups are putting up a fight, and filing multiple lawsuits to try to undo the decision.

In Maine, Glowa is petitioning the Department of Inland Fisheries and wildlife to bar recreational trapping of coyotes or wolves, and to limit firearm hunting of coyotes — both aiming to reduce the chance of wolves being killed unintentionally.

State and federal wildlife officials did not respond to requests for comment. Glowa says his group will continue to collect scat samples in the state’s woods, in an effort to determine whether more wolves are making a home in Maine.

USFWS officials declined an interview request but in an email said, “State and tribal wildlife management agency professionals will soon resume responsibility for sustainable management and protection of gray wolves in states with delisted gray wolf populations. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a longstanding collaboration with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to monitor for wolves in Maine, and we do not have information suggesting the existence of a gray wolf population in Maine.”

Clarification: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated in the headline that a wolf was discovered in Maine. Wolf scat was discovered.

Updated 4:59 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, with comment from USFWS.