FOR MANY YEARS PRIOR TO
its re-designation by COSEWIC in 2015, the Algonquin, or eastern, wolf, was considered a subspecies of the grey wolf, a larger animal that is much more widely dispersed across much of the country, either in its pure form or as hybrid crossed with the eastern wolf in and around the northern Great Lakes. While the idea that it might be a separate species was raised some time ago, that notion was hotly disputed by others — sparking a lengthy debate in the scientific community and causing more widespread questioning of the wolf’s conservation value.
It was Linda Rutledge who did much of the DNA work in the past decade that confirmed the Algonquin wolf ’s unique genetic makeup, tracing it back to an ancestor that evolved independently of grey wolves and alongside coyotes. And while that research has spawned a cascade of changes in our understanding and approach to the animal, its most important contribution might be that it has turned the Algonquin wolf ’s origin story from a source of confusion and dismissal into the primary argument for its ongoing preservation.
“The argument about genetic origin is an academic discussion,” says Rutledge. “What’s important is moving forward with what we can agree on. And what we can agree on is they’re worthy of conservation.”a
WORTHY OF CONSERVATION After decades of debate and disagreement, now at least there is consensus: Algonquin wolves deserve to be conserved