Geoscience Reference
In-Depth Information
In the Adirondacks, local changes to the meaning of the wolf emerged from
changes in landscape description and meaning, resulting in its repositioning as 'in' or,
more commonly, 'out of place'. Changes in the descriptions and meanings of place
in the Adirondacks precipitated the wolf's extermination from the region and its
subsequent re-placement by more socio-economically and culturally 'legitimate'
animal types. Remarkably similar changes in the meaning of place may also
precipitate its return.
Of wolves and humans in New York
Livestock arrived along with the early settlers to the New Netherlands territory, the
region that eventually would encompass the state of New York, and wolf
depredations were an immediate concern among the new residents. James Sperry, an
early chronicler of the region, notes, 'among the trials of the first settlers, there were
none more irritating than the destruction of sheep and swine by… wolves…. [O]
ften whole flocks of sheep would be slaughtered in [a] night' (in Mau 1944:136). In
his discussion of early Adirondack settlement, Byron-Curtiss (1976:10) tells a similar
[O]ften after a settler had, by several seasons' patient breeding, obtained quite
a flock of sheep, or a number of cows…his plans and calculations were upset
by some nocturnal visitor from the woods. 8
Wolf depredations on livestock began taking an economic and symbolic toll early
on, and anti-predator policies and campaigns were quickly initiated. Bounties and
community 'wolf drives' were initiated with a fervent militancy and fanaticism once
considered capable only in the American west. 9 Combined, these anti-predator
campaigns accomplished the rapid extermination of the wolf from greater New
York. By 1800 it had disappeared from the area around Lake Champlain and by
1830 from the western part of the state, a region described as 'much infested' with
wolves only thirty years earlier (John Maude, English traveller, in Mau 1944: 112).
One New York historian, commenting on a particular wolf bounty of the early
nineteenth century, remarked that 'nothing in zoological history ever wiped out
wolves as fast as that law' (White 1967:84). This sentiment would, of course, be
repeated time and again across the continent.
As the wolf population dwindled throughout the rest of the state, the remote and
mountainous Adirondack interior, 10 with a relatively small Euro-American
population at the time, became a haven of sorts for wolves and other species suffering
the expansion of white settlement and exploitation elsewhere 11 (Terrie 1992). A
visiting New York City journalist, Joel Headley, writing in the mid-nineteenth
century, noted that wolves 'swarm[ed] the [interior] forest' (Headley 1849:85; also
Foster in Byron-Curtiss 1976:180). However, not forty years later, mention of the
wolf was noticeably absent from the notes of George Washington Sears, a field
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