Rewilding the Adirondacks

Mountain LionZeebie, by Julie ClarkAdirondack coywolf on night cam atf the Refuge
Cougar, Gray wolf (Zeebie by Julie Clark), and Adirondack Coywolf from trail cam at the Wildlife Refuge

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The Economic Potential of Rewilding the Adirondacks - See more at:
The Economic Potential of Rewilding the Adirondacks - See more at:
The Economic Potential of Rewilding the Adirondacks - See more at:

The Economic Potential of Rewilding the Adirondacks

Steve Hall, Adirondack Wildlife Refuge

Originally published in Adirondack Almanack

The Adirondacks is the largest park in the lower 48 states, its patchwork quilt of private and public lands so vast, you could easily fit Yellowstone, Glacier, and Yosemite inside the Park’s 6 million acres. Tourism is a key business in the Adirondacks, with 12.4 % of all jobs related to tourism. At the same time, only $2 out of every hundred spent on tourism in New York State ends up in the Adirondacks. Even granting that 64% ends up in that tourist mecca, the Big Apple, the numbers for the Adirondacks, and the tourist attractions they offer, seem lower than you’d expect.

Most of our Adirondack towns and villages, particularly those outside the High Peaks, Lake George and Old Forge areas, present a challenging environment in which to make a living, and our kids are more likely to leave the Adirondacks for more promising job markets. Some folks say bring back manufacturing, others say build more resorts, still others say “leave it alone, we like it this way, the fewer people and tourists the better”. But if we do agree to discuss as a goal, bringing more opportunity to the smaller towns and hamlets within the Park, is there a way to do this that uses current and potential natural resources, such as wildlife?

Wildlife drives tourist revenue

Wildlife helps drive tourist revenue, and can therefore help create hospitality and infrastructure support jobs. Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and central Idaho in the mid 90s, not only to rewild Yellowstone, but also in an attempt to better manage the exploding elk herds, and the ecosystem damages they were causing.

Lost in the ongoing political screaming from pro-wolf and anti-wolf factions on either side, was an interesting economic development: in data gathered through surveys between 2004 and 2006, it turned out that a high percentage of Yellowstone visitors cited the possibility of seeing wolves, as a major factor in visiting Yellowstone. This translated into an estimated $35 million in extra annual dollars spent in the local economies of Gardiner, West Yellowstone, Silver Gate, Cooke City, and the other Montana and Wyoming towns which border Yellowstone. About 3.5% of Yellowstone visitors claimed they had come only to see wolves, and would have gone elsewhere (Banff, Denali, Algonquin, etc.) were there no chance of seeing wolves.

The Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism (ROOST) promotes Adirondack tourism to the traveling public, and releases annual reports, based on surveys of tourists who interact with the visitors’ center through walk-ins, call-ins, reach out and social media. Last year’s report estimated that these 477,000 tourists spent about 177 million dollars in tourist related activities, such as lodging, dining, shopping, etc., with an average stay of about 5 days, and an average spending rate of about $325 per day. Hiking is the most popular reported outdoor activity, followed by canoeing and kayaking, skiing and snowboarding, and the ever more popular cycling. Curiously, the only mention of wildlife viewing queried in the survey, are visits to the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge, where visitors go on the “Wolf Walk”, to learn about wolves

What if ROOST actively promoted wildlife viewing, for example, the possibility of seeing elk, wolves or cougar, as a remote possibility while hiking (wolves and cougar tend to flee), better possibility while canoeing (all mammals come to drink), and a still stronger possibility while driving (most wildlife sightings are of animals crossing roads). What if this emphasis on wildlife tourism resulted in only a 10% increase in tourism? That would be over $16 million dollars, and would not include the majority of tourists, hunters, fishermen, etc. (some seven to ten million!) who come to the Adirondacks each year, without interacting with the tourist bureau. If we included these visitors, and added ten percent, we’d be bringing some $160 million dollars into the economy. These speculative estimates do not include potential boosts to hotels in convention and meetings bookings.

There are success stories about restoring elk to previous habitats where they had been hunted out before the advent of hunting seasons and regulation, such as in Kentucky and western Pennsylvania, where restoration has been so successful, elk have become an important tourist revenue factor, and controlled, seasonal hunting has resumed.

Adirondack mega fauna of the past

While the increasing numbers of deer and black bear constitute Adirondack mega fauna today, in the not so distant past, the ecosystem of the “forever wild” Adirondacks supported wolves, cougars, lynx, wolverine, moose, elk and wood bison. Today, moose, recovering from a history of unrestricted hunting, probably number a very sparse 800 to 1,000 animals in New York, and the DEC is engaged in surveys to get a better handle on moose numbers, and whether they are increasing or, following the current trend in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota and Montana, decreasing.

Studies indicate that potential wolf recovery areas include the Adirondacks and northern New England. At Adirondack Wildlife, we frequently receive photos of “Eastern Coyotes”, or what we call “coywolves” from FaceBook followers, all asking whether these are “wolves”. The coywolf is a wolf-coyote hybrid, and as the accompanying photograph from a trail cam at the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge shows, coywolves are sometimes twice the size of western coyotes, and often difficult to distinguish from wolves, especially for a layman who sees one for only a few seconds.

The largest obstacle to wolves returning to the Adirondacks is relentless hunting and trapping of wolves in southern Quebec and Ontario. For our purposes, bolstering the Adirondacks as a place where visitors may see wolves, is it so critical what percentage “wolf” our wolves are, when few visitors can distinguish gray wolves from Canadian wolves from coywolves?

Wandering, transient male cougars occasionally pass through the Adirondacks, but there is no evidence of female cougars raising kittens and defending territories anywhere east of Missouri and the Michigan Upper Peninsula. Male Cougars will set up territories when they have sufficient prey, which they do have in the Adirondacks, and female cougars in territories overlapped by their territories. Unlike the confusion between coywolves and wolves, it’s difficult to mistake a cougar for, say, a bobcat or lynx, unless presented with an obscured or partial glimpse. Without reintroducing cougars to the Adirondacks, particularly females, it is unlikely we’ll have a breeding population in the Adirondacks.

More than 300 Rocky Mountain Elk were released in the Adirondacks over six years, starting in 1893, but were extirpated by hunting, poaching and the expansion of white tailed deer, who passed brain worm and round worm to the elk. Other than that experience, mentions of elk are only found historically (a travel editor mentions them in 1836), and in scattered Iroquois and Algonquin references. Wood Bison have probably been gone for over 200 years, and I don’t believe there have been any specific studies about whether the Adirondacks, logged, cleared, reforested and generally altered over time, would offer suitable browse for elk and grazing for bison.

Lynx are occasionally reported in New York, but as with cougar, there is no evidence yet of breeding and setting up territories, although Sue Morse of Keeping Track has encountered them in northern Vermont. Eighty lynx from northwest Canada were radio collared and released in the Adirondacks, over a three year period, starting in 1989 and some dispersed up to 400 miles from the release areas. Unlike the bobcat, which has a more generalized prey base, and whose numbers continue to expand in the Adirondacks, lynx are specialized snowshoe hare predators. Wolverine were last reported in New York in 1840, and their smaller cousins, fishers, are doing well in the Adirondacks, and expanding their ranges in New York State.

Previous reintroductions of mega fauna often suffered from lack of funding for follow up.

What went right and wrong with Rewilding in Yellowstone

The ecological benefit of returning a keystone predator to Yellowstone was to restore some natural balance, but politics is never far from any discussions about wildlife and sustainability. In the years since wolf reintroduction, anger over real and imagined consequences of wolves in ranching and hunting country, led state legislatures to cancel the thirty mile no-wolf-hunting buffer zone within the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem around Yellowstone National Park, and since wolves don’t know where the park boundaries lie, their numbers in Yellowstone have been cut in half by hunting. The newly elected Congress is more likely to weaken the Endangered Species Act, as well as return more control over wildlife and natural resources to the states. In other words, the positive effects of wolves returning to the Yellowstone ecosystem have been seriously compromised, as has the chances of tourists seeing wolves in Yellowstone. Good discussions about keystone predator effects and the science of “Trophic Cascades” may be found in “The Wolf’s Tooth” and “The Carnivore Way”, by Cristina Eisenberg.

The big picture

 Hunting, as reflected in the annual purchase of hunting licenses, is declining in the U.S. for many reasons, including habitat destruction, and less hunter free time for often more distant hunting access. More importantly, from a cultural perspective, our children and grandchildren are growing up in the digital age, and for many, what little interaction they have with nature is through electronic devices, video games and media.

Most significantly, the earth has lost 40% of its wildlife over the past 50 years, and appears to be in a period scientists are calling the sixth extinction. Unlike previous mass extinctions, this one seems to be driven by the direct impact of an exploding human population, with its critical hallmarks being habitat destruction, overexploitation of our resources, pollution, poaching, invasive species and disease. We seem to have lost sight of the fact that nature may be “entertaining”, but we are also a part of nature, and we despoil it at our peril, even as we deny doing so.

Yellowstone of the East?

Does all this mean that we could turn the Adirondacks into the Yellowstone of the East, by rewilding mega fauna?  Well, not exactly. First of all, from a wildlife perspective, much of the allure of Yellowstone is its wide open vistas, meaning it’s much easier to spot large animals, while the Adirondacks is more characterized by mixtures of thick conifer and deciduous forest. As in many forested wildlife environments, when you hike in the Adirondacks, critters tend to hear you, see you or smell you, and flee before your approach, which is why you’re more likely to see wildlife while canoeing, or surprise wildlife while driving.

There is a much better model for a rewilded Adirondacks, and that is Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, about two hundred ninety miles northwest of Lake Placid. Both parks are part of the Southern Canadian Shield, and are generally characterized as Eastern Boreal transition ecoregions. The Adirondacks has mountains, while Algonquin features rugged and rocky hills, but both have many lakes and waterways, and both are visually inspiring.

Algonquin forms a wildlife corridor with the Adirondacks, and comprises the northern end of an important gene exchange with the Adirondacks, mixing gene pools, as animals wander back and forth between ecosystems, just as the Adirondacks forms such a corridor with the Catskills and Appalachians. One of the most important challenges for parks and wildlife refuges is the dangers of genetic isolation, which impacts diversity within a species, or as we put it at the Refuge, “The key to wildlife survival is connected habitat”. It is in the interests of both these parks to restrict trapping in the corridor between them, to allow the flow of genes back and forth.

Algonquin has populations of Eastern Canadian wolves, deer, beaver, and may be the surest place in North America to see moose. This last is because the 40 miles of Highway 60 runs through the southern end of the park, and is bordered by many bogs, beaver ponds and meadows, which attract moose at various times of year. Algonquin is also the only park I’ve visited, besides Yellowstone, where I’ve seen wolves multiple times.

Curiously, Highway 60 is somewhat mirrored by Route 3 in the Adirondacks. Picture, in particular, that sparsely populated, 40 mile long stretch of Route 3 between Tupper Lake and Star Lake, and like Highway 60, passes through areas where the forest is interrupted by lakes, bogs and beaver ponds, or the stretch between Paul Smith and Malone, or Tupper Lake and Old Forge.

The secret to successful wildlife tourism is often not only what you are very likely to see, but what you believe you may see. Imagine if we add to the various reasons to visit the Adirondacks, wildlife viewing, the outside chance of seeing a moose browsing in a beaver bog, or hearing a bull elk bugling in a meadow, or a wolf or cougar crossing the road. Even if we had cougar and wolf, the chances of seeing them in, say, the High Peaks area, would be very low, as there are fewer deer there, and too many people. If you’re staying at one of the large hotels in Lake Placid, where according to ROOST, most Essex County lodging dollars are spent, you may decide to take that picturesque drive from Saranac Lake through Tupper Lake, and on towards Watertown.

You may discover there is more wildlife off the beaten path between Tupper Lake and Star Lake, but if you wish to grab a room to stay in the area for a day or so, so that you can go out with your camera at dawn or dusk (always the best time to see wildlife), you’ll find limited facilities. Or, to look at it from the inn keeper’s perspective, let’s say you’re running a small motel or BnB in Tupper Lake, Cranberry Lake or Star Lake, and you add to that list of amenities on Trip Advisor, Home Away or AirBnB, wildlife viewing, featuring photographs of wildlife, taken by your guests.

What if you are a hunting or fishing guide, and you’re operating out in the wildlife rich, Cranberry Lake area? You already know that your deer hunters are not patronizing you because they’ll have more deer to target. We tease visitors who come to the Adirondacks to hunt deer, about the fact that there are very likely more deer where they live than here, and they always respond the same way: “We’re here because it’s the Adirondacks”. What if you add to the list of hunt and release creatures wolf and cougar? What hunter/ hiker/ fisherman wouldn’t be thrilled to see, never mind photograph either?

A rewilded Adirondacks would have a major tourist advantage over Algonquin. While Algonquin is only about a four hour drive from Toronto and three hours from Ottawa, the Adirondacks is within driving range of the much more populous New York, Buffalo, Boston, Albany, Hartford, Burlington and Montreal metro areas, and has a more robust hospitality infrastructure. In addition, access to Algonquin is remote, and once you’re within 100 miles of the east or west gates, you’re on two lane roads.

This article is not about whether rewilding will work in the Adirondacks, and there are a number of additional issues to discuss, which I’ll tackle in subsequent articles, such as, how will rewilding impact sheep and cattle ranching, are wolves and cougars dangerous to people, and will this impact the behavior of deer towards hunters? There are a number of non-profits currently working on rewilding, with habitat specialists and biologists taking a fresh look at an old topic, because they have learned much more about our habitat and its carrying capacity for wildlife, and like many others, they view the preservation of the wild as a legacy and a duty. They also see what is happening on the Federal level, and are thinking this may be an opportunity for visionary business, civic and both state and local political leaders, to examine a potential broadening of the Adirondack economy, and step up to promote a real return to “Forever Wild”.

Algonquin to Adirondack Corridor
Algonquin to Adirondacks Corridor, click on map for A2A web site
Algonquin Park bull moose, Nov 2014 by Steve Hall
Bull Moose in Alqonquin Provincial Park, November 2014, by Steve Hall

Wolf Reintro Impact on Yellowstone Tourism Study

Lamar Canyon wolf pack member, by SteveLamar Canyon wolf pack member, Sept 2012
Above, Lamar Canyon wolf pack member, Lamar valley, Yellowstone, Sept. 2012, by Steve Hall. Below, wolf-spotters, Lamar Valley.

How Did We Get Dogs From Wolves? Steve Hall

Predator Defense Website
Wolf Spotters in the Lamar Valley Sept. 2012
Wof Watchers in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone.

The Co-Evolution of Wolves and Humans
Wolfgang M. Schleidt/Michael D. Shalter

Zeebie by Alex HallZeebie, by Julie Clark, Nov 2013
Zeebie by Alex Hall, left, and by Julie Clark, right
Alex with Zeebie and Cree
Zeebie, left, and Cree, with Alex

International Wolf CenterWolf Conservation Center
Great places to visit, and great web sites for learning more aboiut wolves

Wolves by Brian HeinzDavid Mech: Howl in the heartlandDavid Mech: The WolfWolf Wars, by Hank FischerThe Arctic Wolf by Dave MechCarter Neimeyer - Wolfer
Rolf Peterson: Wolves of Isle RoyaleCandy Peterson: View from the Wolf's Eye
Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and ConservationDoug Smith: Decade of the Wolf, Return to Yellowstone.James Halfpenny: Yellowstone Wolves in the Wild
Where the Wild Things Wereby Christina EisenbergThe Carnivore Way, by Cristina Eisenberg

What are we reading?.... Great reading about wolves & ecosystems, for kids....and adults
Click on book for Amazon link.

Cristina Eisenberg with Steve & WendyCristina Eisenberg, Keynote at AHA Day 2014
Cristina Eisenberg was the Keynote Speaker at Adirondack Habitat Awarteness Day 2014
Wolves powerpointTrophic Cascades & the Balance of Nature
Wolves, Dogs and People
Above, We do Presentations at Schools & other Public venues

Dire wolf, by Mark Hallet

Dire wolf, by Mark Hallett, . The Dire wolf was common throughout North America, when the Eurasian gray wolf crossed the Bering Land Bridge about 250,000 years ago.  The dire wolf went extinct about 8,000 years ago, partly due to competition with the smaller, swifter gray wolf, and partly because of the pressure placed on large megafauna by human hunter-gatherers, who first crossed the  Land Bridge about 15,000 years ago.

David Mech on ADK Wolf Reintroduction
Keeping Track
David Mech on ADK Wolf Reintroduction

Steve with Cree and Zeebie, August 2011Cree howling on the wolf walkListening to Zeebie respond
Cree howling in the meadow, center, and listening to Zeebie's response

Coyote. Coywolf


Gray Fox Arctic Fox
Bobcat Lynx Moose
White Tail Deer
Opossum Porcupine Fisher American Marten
Beaver Bald
Osprey Adirondack Loons
Ravens Crows & Wolves
Release of Rehabbed Animals
Learn About Adirondack & Ambassador Wildlife
Critter Cams & Favorite Videos
History of Cree & the Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
Eurasian Eagle Owl
Great Horned

Great Gray Owl

Saw Whet Owl Barn

Eared Owl


Broad Winged Hawk Swainsons Hawk Rough

Northern Harrier

Kestrel Turkey

Black Vulture

Adirondack Wildlife Refuge Donation Link



Contact Information
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge
Adirondack Wildlife Refuge & Rehabilitation Center

Steve & Wendy Hall
PO Box 555, 977 Springfield Road, Wilmington, NY 12997
Toll Free: 855-Wolf-Man (855-965-3626)
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