Despite centuries of persecution, trapping and destruction of natural habitat, many carnivore species in the Northeast are thriving, according to a report released today by the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).
Evaluating the conservation status of 14 "mesocarnivores" (i.e. medium-sized carnivores), ranging from coyotes, to short-tailed weasels throughout northeastern North America, the report found that many species have rebounded from historic lows in the early 20th century, to robust populations. Researchers attribute this success to a combination of management efforts including direct reintroduction, and the return of forest cover.
"It's tempting to dismiss the Northeast as a focal point for conservation of carnivores -- animals that traditionally evoke images of large expanses of wilderness found in the west," said WCS researcher Dr. Justina C. Ray, the report's author. "As it turns out, several mesocarnivore species, including marten, fisher and red fox, have staged remarkable recoveries right here."
Conversely, wolves and cougars, two large predators native to the Northeast, but extirpated in the early 20th century, have not fared as well, due to continued persecution and the loss of larger habitats they require.
The report chronicles success stories, such as the return of the fisher, a member of the weasel family that virtually vanished from much of its range beginning in the 1800s due to overtrapping and habitat loss. Reintroductions, which began in the 1940s, coupled with abandoned farmland reverting back to the forest cover that the species prefer, have led to the re- establishment of viable populations throughout most of their original northeastern range.
"Generalist" mesocarnivores, including coyotes, foxes, racoons and striped skunks that adapt well to human-induced changes in habitat, also show strong populations in much of their northeastern range.