Fish and Wildlife Service doesn't believe gray wolves are
By: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The body of a gray wolf, tagged as a pup in Wisconsin, was
discovered in a soybean field in east central Indiana in
In 2001, a Missouri man fired at what he thought was a coyote,
and later discovered the animal was a gray wolf that had
journeyed south from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The
body of a gray wolf, tagged as a pup in Wisconsin, was discovered
in a soybean field in east central Indiana in June 2003.
A gray wolf that apparently wandered hundreds of miles from
its original home pack somewhere to the north was found
dead in central Illinois in 2002. Are wolves making a comeback
in these states?
Gray wolves are indeed recovering in the western Great
Lakes, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist
Ron Refsnider. But he says gray wolves are not likely
to establish populations south of Wisconsin and Michigan.
"What we are probably seeing in Indiana, Illinois
and Missouri are young wolves dispersing from packs in
the north," Refsnider explained. "Occasionally,
these wolves travel hundreds of miles but do not survive
to establish packs."
Refsnider, who works in Minneapolis as one of the Service's
endangered species biologists, says lack of large land
areas with a low human density and an inadequate wild
prey base in states beyond the gray wolves' current range
will limit the species' expansion south. While an occasional
single animal may be spotted outside its normal habitat
- the wolf found in Indiana apparently skirted around
Chicago - gray wolves require large tracts where they'll
rarely encounter humans in order to establish and maintain
"We're pleased to see wolf recovery is progressing
so well in this part of the U.S., but I don't expect to
see viable wolf populations in the near future in any
of the states where these animals have turned up,"
Refsnider said the Service reclassified gray wolves in
most of the United States from endangered to threatened
earlier this year because populations are no longer in
danger of extinction there. The next step, he said, would
be to remove wolves from the federal list of endangered
and threatened species and return management of their
populations to states and tribes.
Under their current status as threatened, gray wolves
in the western Great Lakes are protected by the Endangered
Species Act. But unlike animals classified as endangered,
gray wolves may now be managed with more flexibility.
For example, wolves that prey on domestic livestock or
other domestic animals may be trapped or killed by state,
tribal, or federal agents.
But, reminds Service Resident Agent in Charge Tim Santel,
wolves are still protected under the Endangered Species
Act and may not be killed or harmed under most circumstances.
He said the wolves found in Indiana and Illinois had been
shot, although there are no plans to file charges in either
Santel said it is possible, as in the Missouri instance,
that a shooter mistook the animals for coyotes, but cautioned
that it is important to be sure of any target before firing.
"Obviously, we don't expect to see a wolf in Indiana
or Illinois, but we should all be aware that the possibility
exists," Santel said.
In general, gray wolves are larger than coyotes, ranging
from 60 to 115 pounds and standing 26 to 32 inches at
the shoulder. Coyotes typically weigh up to 50 pounds
and measure up to 20 inches tall.
The chances of encountering a wild gray wolf in the back
yard outside of wolf country are not good. "If you
see a large canid in Indiana, Illinois, or Missouri, you're
most likely looking at a coyote or a dog, or perhaps a
wolf-dog hybrid," Refsnider said. He suggests checking
the "Was That a Wolf?" fact sheet at http://www.wolf.org/wolves/learn/basic/wolves_humans.asp
before contacting state or federal wildlife officials.
Gray wolves had been absent from Indiana and neighboring
states since the early 1900s, disappearing gradually -as
they did virtually nationwide -due to intentional killing
and loss of habitat. The only remaining wolf population
in the contiguous United States for much of the 20th century
was found in Minnesota. Listed as an endangered species
in 1967, gray wolves began to rebound under protection
of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, and were aided
by recovery programs launched by the Service, states,
tribes, and private groups.
The total gray wolf winter population in the western
Great Lakes area (Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin) is
thought to number more than 3,000 animals, with most in
Minnesota. Gray wolves also inhabit the northern Rocky
Mountains in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Some of these
wolves were reintroduced by the Service in Yellowstone
National Park and in the central Idaho wilderness in the
1990s. Northwestern Montana's wolf population was established
by wolves moving south from Canada. Gray wolves in the
southwestern United States, where reintroduction efforts
are underway, remain endangered.
More information on gray wolves, is available at the
Service's website at http://midwest.fws.gov/wolf/