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How to handle them has been a contentious issue in other states.
By The Editorial Board
They say every dog has its day. In Maine, maybe wolves are about to have their moment.
DNA from a scat sample found near the Canadian border last summer came back 85 percent wolf, according to the Maine Wolf Coalition. It’s the first documented case of a live Eastern wolf in the U.S., and the first evidence of a wolf of any kind in Maine since the 1990s, MainePublic recently reported.
The discovery comes at the same time the federal government has removed the nearly indistinguishable gray wolf from protections under the Endangered Species Act – a process started under the Obama administration and finished under President Trump. Management will now be turned over to state and tribal governments.
Unless a lawsuit over the change is successful, the future of wolves in Maine – if there is one – will be up to state wildlife officials. Elsewhere, the wolf has been a topic of great debate, generally pitting conservationists against the interests of hunters, farmers and ranchers.
Gray wolves once covered nearly all of what is now the contiguous United States. But following European settlement, they were hunted nearly to extinction. The wolf was erased from Maine by the end of the 19th century, and nearly everywhere else by the middle of the 20th.
Wolves outside of Alaska were given federal protections in 1978. Now, there are more than 6,000, largely in the northern Rocky Mountains and the western Great Lakes.
The presence of wolves of any kind in Maine has been hotly debated for years in some circles, with each new photo of an unidentified wild canine combed over closely, with much disagreement over whether it shows a coyote, wolf, domesticated dog or some hybrid.
In 1993, a bear hunter near Greenville shot and killed a young female wolf. But since then there has been little hard proof that wolves are living in the Maine North Woods, though there are wolf populations across the border, in Ontario and New Brunswick.
The Maine Wolf Coalition is convinced wolves would be found in Maine if we just looked harder. The group was formed with the intention of supporting the recovery of wolves, which they say would both bring balance to ecosystems here and draw outdoor enthusiasts excited to see a wolf in the wild.
It’s not such a long shot. A federal analysis found that Maine had “large areas of suitable wolf habitat” that could support between 488 and 1,170 wolves.
Any recovery, however, faces obstacles. Wildlife officials largely do not recognize the presence of wolves here, while the hunting and trapping of coyotes – both now allowed year round – put wolves, which are similar looking, in danger of being killed.
There is a similar situation in Colorado, where residents on Nov. 3 narrowly voted to reintroduce gray wolves, against the wishes of hunters and farmers who see the animals as a nuisance, and a threat to livestock.
In nearby Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, however, hunting of wolves already was allowed even before federal protections were taken away, thanks to an exception to the law passed after sportsmen and agriculture groups lobbied Congress.
If more wolves can be found, we may hear the same arguments here.
Where will Maine, which has seen showdowns between animal-focused environmentalists and sportsmen before, ultimately come down? The answer, like the presence of wolves themselves, is up in the air.