Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Wild wolf killed in Pike County Illinois

DNA tests confirm third one spotted in state since 2002
Published Wednesday, February 22, 2006

DNA tests have determined that a gray wolf shot in Pike County in December was wild and probably traveled hundreds of miles to reach west-central Illinois.

Seth Hall of New Canton shot the wolf while hunting for coyotes. The animal was taken to a local taxidermist and then to the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Ore., where scientists concluded the wolf was wild and part of the Great Lakes pack originating in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Michigan.

Illinois' wolf population was nearly exterminated by the 1860s, and no wild wolves are thought to have lived in the state since the early 1900s. However, the Pike County animal is the third wild wolf confirmed in the state since 2002, and some wildlife experts think that is a sign that wolves are on their way back to Illinois. Young adult wolves occasionally wander for miles after leaving the packs into which they were born.

"We know that we've got wolves dispersing out of (the Great Lakes pack), but we only hear about them if they are killed or recovered somehow," said Mike DonCarlos, wildlife program manager for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "They're looking for new territories, and some animals will disperse very long distances, hundred of miles."

One wolf was killed by a vehicle in Lake County in 2005, and another was shot near Henry, in Marshall County, in 2002.

Minnesota has about 3,000 resident gray wolves, while Wisconsin has more than 100 packs and 425-455 wolves. Michigan had about 360 wolves in 2004.Gray (or timber) wolves are a federally threatened species. They were once abundant in Illinois, but extermination of wolves was encouraged 'in the early 1800s, and bounties were paid to those who killed wolves.

Tim Santel, resident agent in charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Springfield, said he is working with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to get the word out that wolves are moving south and may be encountered from time to time in the state. "It's probably just a matter of time before these wandering males start bringing along some females and starting packs," he said. "Who knows when that may be, but it is certainly possible."

DonCarlos said Minnesota's wolves stay away from people for the most part. "People do see wolves on occasion, but it is still fairly rare to see one," he said. "Livestock depredation is an ongoing problem, but our program for selective wolf control seems to be addressing the need," he said.

Wolves, while listed as threatened, may be killed if they pose a problem for farmers. With protected wolves occasionally showing up in Illinois, wildlife officials will try to educate hunters. DNR plans to include information on wolves in the next Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations.

Taxidermist Jeremy Priest of Longbeard Taxidermy in Pittsfield said he didn't have any doubt Hall's animal was a wolf. "A wolf has a lot bigger body," Priest said. "A lot of people say they look like a German shepherd with a big collar around their head." Priest said coyotes normally weigh 20 to 25 pounds, with large ones topping off at 30 pounds. "This (wolf) weighed 90 pounds and was 51/2 feet long," he said. "It was pretty good sized."

The challenge for coyote hunters will to differentiate between coyotes and wolves at a distance. "On average, wolves are going to appear twice as big as coyotes," said DonCarlos. "If it looks really large, that is the best indication at long range."

Santel said the responsibility ultimately falls to the hunter. "It's really no different than hunting any other type of game," he said. "You have to know your target and identify your target prior to pulling the trigger." Other protected species sometimes are mistaken for game animals. "We've seen this issue with the swans that have been killed (mistaken for snow geese), as well as whooping cranes and eagles," Santel said.

He said no charges have been filed in the case of the Pike County wolf, but "it is still considered a pending investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service."

  • Springfield Journal-Register