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Vehicle-killed wolf discovered on Highway 27 raises questions
Near Seneca
Map of where wolves are in Wisconsin

SENECA - On Tuesday, Nov. 2, passing motorist Jeff Heisz discovered what he believed to be a car-killed wolf on Highway 27, north of Seneca. 

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) wildlife biologist Dan Goltz collected the animal from Jay Greene that day, and confirmed that the animal is a young, male gray wolf.

“The animal I collected from Jay Greene was clearly a wolf,” Goltz said. “It’s coloration – grey with black-tipped hairs, it’s face structure and neck, and the massive size of its paws are what I used in identifying its species.”

Goltz said that wolves and dogs do interbreed, and its not impossible that the animal could be a hybrid. He said he does not plan to have the animal’s DNA tested to determine its species.

“The animal weighed about 65-70 pounds, and is most likely a lone male ranging out from its pack,” Goltz explained.

Goltz said that there hadn’t been a positive identification of a wolf in Crawford County since 2012, when a farmer in the Steuben area established depredation of his livestock. The farmer was given a permit to remove wolves on his property, and two wolves were shot.

“There have been some reports of wolf sightings in Crawford County this fall,” Goltz said. “I viewed a video captured by a trail cam in the Seneca area, and what I saw was three coyotes, who cleared out very quickly, followed about five seconds later by what appeared to be a wolf.”

Wolves and humans

“Just like any wild animal, wolves tend to avoid humans,” according to the WDNR website. “Verified cases of healthy wolves attacking humans are extremely rare, and there have been no documented cases in Wisconsin.

 “Most incidents of wolf aggression toward people have involved wolves that have become habituated to people or involved domestic dogs” the WDNR stated. “To avoid wolves becoming habituated to people, it is important to never feed or approach wolves in the wild.

What do wolves eat?

“Wolves are primarily carnivorous,” according to the WDNR website. “A study in the early 1980s showed that the diet of Wisconsin wolves was comprised of 55 percent white-tailed deer, 16 percent beavers, 10 percent snowshoe hares and 19 percent other small game (mice, squirrels, muskrats, etc). Deer comprise over 80 percent of a wolf's diet throughout the year, but beavers become more important during the spring and fall when beavers are dispersing and spend more time on land, which makes them more vulnerable and easier to catch.

“In the winter, when beavers are in their lodges or are moving safely beneath the ice, wolves rely more heavily on deer and hares,” the WDNR stated. “Wolves' summer diets are more diverse, including a greater variety of small mammals. Studies also show that berries can actually comprise over half of a wolf's diet during mid-summer.”

Closest breeding pack

According to Jessup Wiechelt, a Fort McCoy wildlife biologist, the closest breeding population of wolves in Wisconsin is in the Black River Forest in Jackson County. He said that there have been wolves at times on the Fort McCoy installation, but there hasn’t been much activity in the last five years.

“We have been tracking wolves on the Fort McCoy installation on and off for the last 20-30 years,” Wiechelt said. “At one point, there were as many as 10 wolves, and we found a den with a pup in 2011.”

Wiechelt said that based on his team’s survey work, and also the work of wolf survey volunteers, like Theresa Simpson, he believes that at this point, the wolves on the property are “just travelling through.”

Management Unit Five

The Black River Forest is located in Wisconsin Wolf Management Unit Five. Between April 2019 and April 2020, there were 21 wolf sightings, 48 wolves seen, and five track or sign observations. Wolf howl survey data indicated 18 packs, 16 with pups in 2019.

“Surveys indicate that there are nine or ten wolf packs in Jackson and Clark counties,” WDNR Wildlife Biologist Scott Roepke said. The average size of a wolf pack is four during the winter when populations are at their lowest, and increase in the spring or summer after wolves are born.”

As far as where the road-killed wolf in Crawford County may have come from, Roepke said that it is plausible that the individual may have moved down from Jackson County, but he said packs have been known to exist in Monroe County, and there are significant populations in Juneau and Adams counties as well.

Chart showing increase in wolves over the years

WDNR wolf count

The 2019-2020 Wolf Count conducted by WDNR indicated that there were about 1,034 wolves in Wisconsin, in about 256 packs. This was up from 914 in 2019, in 243 packs. After the 2020 wolf hunt, WDNR now estimates the state population of wolves to be under a variety of population growth scenarios, the researchers estimate that Wisconsin now hosts between 695 and 751 wolves.

The greatest density of wolves lies in about the northern third of the state, with smaller populations in following the Wisconsin River Valley south as far as northern Columbia County, and also in the Black River area, in an area known as the ‘Central Forest.’

The WDNR wolf count is conducted in winter when snow cover allows efficient tracking, and it represents the low point in the annual population cycle. The count uses a territory mapping with telemetry technique, summer howl surveys, winter snow track surveys, recovery of dead wolves, depredation investigations, and collection of public observation reports.

“Prior to European settlement, 3,000-5,000 wolves are believed to have been found throughout Wisconsin,” according to the WDNR website. “During the 1800s, unregulated hunting by settlers extirpated bison, elk, caribous and moose in the state and nearly eliminated white-tailed deer as well.

“As prey species became scarce, wolves increasingly began to feed on livestock,” the WDNR noted. “This led the state legislature to pass a bounty on wolves in 1865. The state bounty on wolves persisted until 1957, when wolves were classified by the state as a protected species. Elimination of bounties, however, made little difference for wolves as they had already been exterminated across most of Wisconsin; by the 1950s only a few wolves remained in the far northern part of the state.”