In January 1968, the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” was the nation’s top-selling album, the price of a postage stamp rose from 5 to 6 cents, and a timber wolf went wild in Caroga Lake.
What the Leader-Herald at the time termed a “troublesome dog” attacked a domestic dog, stole a stored turkey off a resident’s back porch and eventually was intentionally killed by a local motorist near Royal Mountain.
Within six weeks of the Jan. 9-10 incidents in that remote corner of Fulton County, the state Conservation Department (as it was then known) declared the 84-pound animal to be a wolf — not a dog, coyote or even “coydog.” Three years later, federal wildlife officials finally agreed.
But those who were there had no doubt.
“A conservation officer from Piseco came down and looked at it and said ‘that’s a wolf,’ ” Bruce Busch, who was part of a search party for the animal, told me on Friday.
There was a debate, never settled, about whether the beast was an intrepid explorer that came down through the Adirondacks from Canada, or had gotten loose from captivity somewhere closer.
I caught a passing allusion to the incident when I was researching a recent story on whether the gray wolf should be removed from the federal endangered species list, and might ever return to the Adirondacks, where once it thrived.
I’ve since learned the details, thanks to clippings saved by Busch, who owned a Caroga Lake restaurant at the time and later worked as a state conservation officer.
But such incidents have been rare. It’s the only confirmed case in the Adirondacks between a trapper’s take in Hamilton County in 1893 and a hunter’s shooting of a wandered Canadian wolf in Saratoga County in 2001. Many people believe they’re out there, but there have been no confirmed sightings since.
Wolves — particularly adolescent males in search of independence — indeed may be passing through from time to time. The Caroga incident shows they were doing so before the wildlife-protection movement gained widespread support in the 1970s.
Groups like the Adirondack Council and Adirondack Wild think that gray wolves could return to the region on their own, given their recovery from endangered levels in places like Minnesota and Idaho under the protections of the Endangered Species Act.
The wolf comeback in the West has gone so well that the some states now have hunting, and the federal government is considering dropping them entirely from its Endangered Species List.
In the 19th century, the continental U.S. had millions of wolves, but as European-style settlement expanded west, they were nearly wiped away in what writer Barry Lopez aptly called a “war on wolves.”
It would be nice to think we’re more civilized and tolerant now, but the fact that Idaho just passed a law providing $400,000 annually for “wolf control” makes me wonder. Wolves do take sheep and calves, but the federal government has been compensating ranchers.
The Adirondacks would be a wilder place if wolves return, like they are a wilder place today than 20 years ago because of the return of moose.
Years ago, I camped for a night on a remote lake on the Northville-Placid Trail, sharing a water’s-edge site and some brandy with a New York City street artist who hiked the trail all summer and ate 1-pound baloney sandwiches. There was a thunderstorm at night, and as I hiked out the next day, a large tree had crashed down across the trail, blocking it.
I cautiously crept over the fallen trunk. As I cleared it, I was startled by something behind. I turned to see a large German shepherd on the other side of the tree. We looked at each other, it barked once, and then it vanished.
I looked around for the owner. There was none. It was a long time before I realized what I took for a domestic shepherd must have been a coyote.
Perhaps someday another hiker will have a memorable experience like that, glimpsing a wolf in its natural element.
Stephen Williams is a Gazette reporter. The opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. He can be reached at 885-6705 or [email protected]