Maine is a big state with a lot of wilderness. It’s no surprise that the answer to, “are there wolves in Maine” is complicated. The answer to that question really depends on who you ask!
Some people believe that wolves are slowly making a comeback in Maine, and there seems to be some evidence supporting that. Others, including the official state government representatives, say the opposite.
So, what’s the truth? Do wolves live in Maine? Let’s take a deep dive into the question of whether or not there are wolves in Maine.
Are There Wolves In Maine? That Depends On Who You Ask!
According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, there have indeed been sightings and confirmed evidence of wolves in the state. These sightings have increased in recent years.
Are Wolves Making A Comeback In Maine?
This is leading many to believe that the wolf population in Maine is slowly but surely making a comeback. Along with the sightings, there have been confirmed incidents of wolf deaths in Maine by human causes.
One was in 1993 up around Moosehead Lake that was shot by a bear hunter. The other was in 1996 outside of Bangor killed by a trapper.
The first evidence of wolves’ presence in Maine since those killings has been found through genetic analysis of scat found in Maine. The analysis indicates an Eastern wolf. Most likely, this animal traveled down from Canada.
The DNA analysis confirms the animal was genetically 84% Eastern wolf.
However, there are coywolves in Maine (see below), which raises another question. Asks New Hampshire Fish and Game Department wildlife biologist Patrick Tate,
As you can see, this is part of the controversy over whether or not there are wolves in Maine.
✅ Is there a small population of wolves possibly attempting to re-establish their territory?
✅ Was the scat just from a lone wolf traveling down from Canada?
✅ Was it actually coywolf scat?
Wolf Sightings In Maine
There have been numerous reported sightings of wolves in Maine over the years, despite the official stance that there are no wolves in the state.
As noted above, biologists have even identified wolf DNA in scat collected in Maine.
So what could explain these sightings and evidence of wolf presence?
One theory is that wolves may be migrating from neighboring Canada into Maine. Another possibility is that a small population of wolves may have evaded detection by remaining isolated in remote areas of Maine.
With 90% of Maine forested, that is a plausible explanation to some.
So, what’s really going on? It’s possible that these sightings could be of coywolves, a hybrid species that has some wolf genetics but primarily resembles coyotes. Coyotes have been present in Maine for decades and do occasionally interbreed with wolves.
Either way, it is clear that there is something intriguing going on with the presence (or possible absence) of wolves in Maine.
In 2019, the Maine Wolf Coalition (MWC) began seeking information about gray wolf populations in Maine. This was in response to the federal and state government’s failure to assess wolf numbers in the area.
As wolves in Canada live relatively close to Maine, and as the Northeast has a large amount of food and abundant habitat, the MWC contends that recolonization is occurring.
In 2021, MWC set up trail cameras in an effort to photograph wolves. Two of the cameras were set up near what is believed to be wolf scat to snap photographs of the animals. A third camera was set up in a different area.
Several adult wolves–or what appear to be wolves–appear on camera. Not only that, but a litter of up to seven canid pups was also photographed!
Here is a description of the wolves in the video:
They are very different in appearance, possibly owing to the fact that Maine may have both gray and Eastern wolves and hybrids of both. The morphology of these animals shows the wide variation in wolves and wolflike canids. Wolves in Maine may range in size from less than 50 pounds to more than 100 pounds and they may vary in color from white to black and various shades of brown and gray.
John Glowa, Maine Wolf Coalition
Here is the video so you can decide for yourself whether these are wolves, coyotes, or coywolves.
Further research and monitoring are needed to determine the truth behind these sightings and DNA evidence. There has to be agreement on how much DNA is necessary before an animal can be considered a wolf.
Also, there needs to be cooperation with the Maine wildlife department in order to study the possible presence of wolves in Maine.
Is There A Maine Wolf Population?
The official stance from Maine state officials is that there are no wolves in Maine. What is to be made, then, of the numerous sightings and evidence collected confirming the presence of wolves in our state?
Will we ever know if there is an actual wolf population in Maine? Wolves are elusive and tend to travel long distances. The wolf sightings in Maine could just be outliers that crossed the Canadian border into Maine.
Although, the pups on the video (if they are wolf pups) make that seem like a questionable perspective.
Despite their secretive nature, there are ways of tracking wolf populations. Researchers can collect scat samples for DNA analysis, and monitor wolf (or pack) activity through remote cameras.
These activities would require the cooperation of the state government. It would be too expensive for a private organization to carry out.
Conservation efforts have played a role in the comeback of wolves in other areas, so why not Maine? The Eastern wolf was listed as endangered in 1978. With the help of conservation measures, their numbers have slowly increased over the years.
It will be interesting to see if the (controversial) wolf population continues to grow and thrive in Maine. Evidence of that will depend on individuals and groups to continue tracking and researching until there is enough evidence for an official population study.
What Happened To All The Wolves In Maine?
Historically, wolves were abundant in Maine until they were eradicated in the 1800s and 1900s. There are several reasons that wolves disappeared from Maine (and the entire country!).
[Believe it or not, moose were almost hunted to extinction in the state during the same time period. We can add the eastern mountain lion to that list as well. There is the same controversy over whether there are mountain lions in Maine.]
Habitat destruction and loss always play a significant role in the disappearance of a species. As human development expands, the natural habitats for wolves shrunk and fragmented, making it difficult for them to survive and thrive.
This loss leads to persecution from humans, as wolves encroach on human territory due to the loss of their own, which is the primary reason wolves disappeared.
Through hunting, trapping, and intentional poisoning, wolves were decimated in order to protect livestock.
Wolves are often viewed as a threat to livestock and game populations, leading to their targeted removal from certain areas.
It is important to remember that the wolf population in Maine may or may not currently be extinct. However, conservation efforts are ongoing in other parts of the country with the ultimate goal of bringing wolves back to their historic range.
This would only help the potential wolf population in Maine, as wolves range for hundreds of miles.
Education about the important role of predators in ecosystems, along with cooperative efforts between landowners and wildlife managers, can help promote coexistence and recovery for wolf populations.
What Do Wolves Eat?
Wolves feed on moose, deer, and beavers — all of which Maine has in abundance. Of course, they will also eat livestock. That is what ultimately led to their near extinction across the country.
In spite of the scary folktales–the Big, Bad Wolf; a wolf in sheep’s clothing; not to mention the scary movie The Grey—wolves don’t hunt humans.
From what I learned while living in Alaska, tigers and polar bears are the only animals that will actively hunt humans.
Are Wolves In Maine Dangerous?
Wolves have a long history of being feared and hunted due to their potential threat to livestock and humans. In Maine, wolves were completely eradicated by the mid-1900s.
While wolves do have the potential to attack livestock, these instances are rare and often occur when the animals have become habituated to human presence or are experiencing a shortage of their natural prey.
In fact, in areas where wolf populations are healthy and balanced with their ecosystem, they can actually help control prey species such as deer, leading to overall healthier populations and ecosystems.
Despite this, there is still a negative stigma surrounding wolves and they continue to face persecution.
It is important for people to understand and acknowledge the vital role that wolves play in the environment, as well as the fact that encounters with humans are rare and usually not aggressive in nature.
From John Glowa’s Facebook page: “Wolf populations generally adjust their size to prey density (i.e., food availability). When prey populations decrease in size, wolf populations follow suit.
Similarly, when prey populations increase, wolf populations follow. Wolves do not possess supernatural abilities to thrive or even persist indefinitely on little-to-no food.
And when wolves get hungry, which they often are, they do not start “turning” on people and viewing them as food.”
In spite of their bad reputation, it is important to remember that wolves can be a crucial part of the ecosystem and their presence can actually benefit local environments and promote biodiversity.
What Are Some Different Types Of Wolves?
Historically, Maine was home to the Gray Wolf, the Eastern Timber Wolf, and the Red Wolf. These wolves were heavily hunted and persecuted, leading to their eventual disappearance from the state in the early 1900s.
The Gray Wolf
The gray wolf is one of the most famous and also one of the most misunderstood animals in North America. These canids are often associated with being bloodthirsty villains from fairy tales or third-grade reading books, but in reality, they’re much more complex than that.
Gray wolves are highly adaptable animals that have thrived across many different environments for millennia. They are carnivores that feed on a wide variety of animals, including large, hooved mammals like deer and moose, smaller mammals like rabbits, and even insects.
They are quite large, with weights ranging from 50-100 pounds.
While they don’t pose a threat to humans, gray wolves are often considered a nuisance to livestock owners since they will sometimes kill and eat livestock like sheep and goats.
The Red Wolf
Red wolves are a critically endangered species native to the United States. They have an average weight of only 40 pounds, making them the smallest
subspecies of gray wolf.
Long considered a subspecies of the gray wolf, recent evidence suggests that the red wolf is, indeed, its own unique species.
The Eastern Timber Wolf
Timber wolves are very adaptable animals that can live in a wide range of different habitats including forests, grasslands, and deserts. They are nocturnal and primarily feed on small, hooved mammals, carrion, rabbits, and rodents.
They are quite a bit smaller than gray wolves, and there is controversy over whether they should be considered a subspecies of the gray wolf.
Eastern wolves have hybridized with coyotes, creating a unique “coywolf” population.
What Are Coywolves?
Coywolves, or the coyote-wolf hybrid, are becoming increasingly common in Maine and throughout the Northeast United States. These animals have a unique appearance, displaying the physical characteristics of both coyotes and wolves.
Coywolves are native to Maine, and they have become an important part of the ecosystem since the wolf population has been eradicated, leaving an ecological niche to be filled.
While it is not entirely clear why coyotes and wolves chose to interbreed, it is likely due to a combination of factors including a loss of habitat and declining wolf populations leading to increased interactions between the two species.
In Maine, coywolves make up a significant portion of the canid population, with estimates suggesting they may comprise up to 75% of all canids in some areas. They are also found throughout the rest of the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada.
Coywolves typically display a mix of physical traits from both species, with larger bodies and thicker fur than coyotes but smaller than wolves. They also have narrower snouts and shorter legs than wolves.
Some contend that all the evidence of wolves in Maine is really just evidence of coywolves–which no one disputes exist in the state.
How Can You Tell A Wolf From A Coyote?
One of the main physical differences between a wolf and a coyote is size. Wolves are much larger, with males weighing an average of around 80 pounds, while coyotes only weigh around 20-40 pounds.
The shape of their facial features also varies, with wolves having broader snouts and more pointed ears, while coyotes have narrower snouts and rounder ears.
Another way to tell them apart is by their vocalizations. Wolves have a well-known howl, while coyotes typically yip or scream. I’ve heard coyotes at night, and even though they are far away, they sound like they are so close–it’s kind of scary!
Anyway, another way to tell them apart is that their tracks also differ in size. Wolf tracks are much larger than those of a coyote.
In terms of behavior, wolves live and hunt in packs while coyotes are typically solitary animals. Coyotes are also more opportunistic eaters and will scavenge for food as well as hunt, whereas wolves primarily hunt large prey in groups.
It’s important to note that these species interbreed, resulting in these “coywolves” or “wolfdogs.”
However, these hybrid animals tend to show physical characteristics closer to wolves and typically exhibit pack behavior like wolves rather than the solitary behavior of coyotes.
Overall, paying attention to size, facial features, vocalizations, tracks, and behavior can help distinguish between a wolf and a coyote.
What Type Of Habitat Do Wolves Need?
Historically, gray wolves were found in Maine, typically inhabiting forested areas with abundant prey.
In order to maintain healthy populations, wolves require a mixture of habitat types for hunting, denning, and den dispersal. This includes both unaltered wild lands as well as some human-modified landscapes such as agricultural fields and rural ranchlands.
Wolves also need connectivity between habitats to allow for biological diversity to prevent inbreeding within isolated populations. A lack of interconnectedness could be what caused the interbreeding leading to coywolves.
Conservation efforts often focus on maintaining this connectivity through the protection of natural corridors and connecting fragmented habitats.
Are Wolves An Endangered Or Protected Species?
The February 10, 2022 court decision overrode the previous delisting of gray wolves as endangered. Wolves in 44 of the lower 48 states are now a protected species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Due to the diligent work of wildlife advocates, federal protections will once again be afforded to wolves.
As a consequence, it is illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect gray wolves without a permit or other authorization under federal law.
Are There Wolves In Maine? That Depends On Who You Ask . . .
The presence of wolves in Maine is a controversial topic. The question of whether or not there are wolves in Maine is complicated by the fact that there are coywolves, which are a hybrid of wolves and coyotes.
Some people believe that all the evidence of wolves in Maine–including the DNA test of the scat and the varied pictures and video–is really just evidence of coywolves.
There are also those who believe that there are purebred wolves in the state. Whether they are lone wolves coming down from Canada, or potentially a breeding population, wolves are here.
So, do wolves live in Maine? That answer is as clear as mud during mud season. The truth is, it depends on who you ask.
Here are a couple of sites belonging to defenders of wildlife that work to protect wolves, and that address the issue of wolves in Maine.
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