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Great Lakes Article:

DNR revisits timber wolf status
Could become protected, not threatened
By Anita Weier
The Capitol Times

The death of a wolf near Spring Green late last month is just the latest bit of news to put the state's growing wolf population in the spotlight.

The very success of bringing back the timber wolf is now sparking discussion of changing the rules governing its protection.

Timber wolves, also known as gray wolves, are listed as a threatened species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the state Department of Natural Resources. The state, though, is considering changing the status to protected, which offers more options for handling nuisance animals, said Bill Ishmael, a DNR wildlife biologist based at Spring Green.

Biologists estimated that the Wisconsin wolf population totaled about 335 before spring 2003 pup production.

About 77 wolf packs are scattered across the northern third of the state and about 15 packs are located in the densely forested areas of central Wisconsin. The known wolf packs closest to Spring Green are in northern Monroe and Juneau counties, about 75 miles away, officials said.

A pack usually includes a breeding pair and their pups, yearlings and older offspring, and sometimes one or two unrelated adults. Wisconsin packs range from two to 12 wolves in winter.

The wolf killed near Spring Green was looking for new territory, Ishmael said.

The male wolf killed by a car on Sept. 26 weighed almost 90 pounds, and was killed about three miles north of Spring Green, near the intersection of Highway 23 and Sauk County WC, said Ishmael.

The wolf's age was uncertain until a laboratory analysis is complete, Ishmael said in an interview. The wolf was hit at about 6 a.m. and the death was reported in a phone call to a DNR conservation warden shortly after.

"Dispersing wolves can cover long distances in a relatively short period of time. We've had dispersing wolves from Wisconsin and other Great Lake states populations come as far south as Dane and Jefferson counties in recent years," Ishmael said.

"Unfortunately, when they travel into the more populated areas of southern Wisconsin, their changes of getting hit by a vehicle increase."

It's rare to find a wolf this far south in Wisconsin, he added. But during the past three years, wolves from the Great Lakes states have been found in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri.

A Wisconsin wolf born in Jackson County in 2002 was found dead in June in east central Indiana, having apparently traveled around Lake Michigan and the Chicago-Gary, Ind., metropolitan area, Adrian Wydeven, a DNR wolf specialist based in Park Falls, said at the time. A Michigan wolf that had been living along the Wisconsin-Michigan border in 2000 was shot in north central Missouri in the fall of 2001.

"We get about a half dozen calls a year about wolf sightings in Sauk, Iowa and Richmond counties," Ishmael said. "But some of those may be coyotes or dogs. We had not verified a report until now. There is unlikely a resident population."

He also said that wolves are solitary animals that usually do not come in contact with people, though they may endanger livestock. "It's not the big bad wolf," Ishmael said.

The wolf that died near Spring Green was not one of several wolves that researchers have radio-collared, so it will be difficult to find out where it originated, he added.

Wolves seeking new territory are typically one- or two-year-olds searching for a mate and a territory, Wydeven said in a written statement Wednesday.

"Both male and female wolves make these dispersal moves," Wydeven said. "The occurrence of lone wolves in southern Wisconsin indicates . . . that much of the suitable habitat in central and northern Wisconsin is filling up."

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