A wolf was seen and photographed in a field along Highway 171 in the Gays Mills orchards last Friday morning.
The Independent-Scout’s Charley Preusser and Erin Martin were eastbound in a vehicle on 171 just past the Kickapoo Orchard at about 6:30 a.m. when they spotted the wolf.
After stopping the vehicle, they were able to back up and photograph the animal, which made no attempt to run.
Viroqua-based DNR Wildlife Biologist Dave Matheys stopped short of definitively identifying the animal in the photograph as a wolf, but confirmed that it certainly looked like a wolf.
“To me it appears to be a wolf and that’s within the realm of possibility,” Matheys said. “We know there are wolf packs in Monroe and Jackson counties and that’s not that far away.”
DNR Carnivore Specialist Dave Mcfarland shared Matheys’ opinion on the matter. While acknowledging photos can be tough to interpret, Mcfarland said the photographed animal did look like a wolf.
“I’m pretty comfortable calling it a wolf,” Mcfarland concluded.
Matheys explained that wolves are known to travel extensively and younger members of a pack often disperse to other areas. He speculated the wolf seen in orchards might well have been such a “disperser.” While these younger wolves, male and female, are known to wander, they will often return to the area where they were born.
Mcfarland agreed with Matheys that the wolf in Gays Mills was probably just a dispersing wolf from another area.
“Wolves can travel incredible distances,” Mcfarland said. “Wolves from Wisconsin have been identified as away as Missouri. So, having a wolf going to Gays Mills is not out of the question at all.”
Mcfarland said there are several wolf packs at Fort McCoy, which is not that far from Gays Mills. Last summer, a wolf was reported in the Richland Center area, according to Mcfarland.
Are wolves dangerous?
“Well in the big scheme of things, you are more apt to be bit by a cat and get an infection than you are to be attacked by a wolf,” Matheys said. “Wolves are large carnivores, but they are not inclined to attack human beings. You need to keep that in perspective.”
Although there was a limited hunting season for wolves in Wisconsin this year, it is illegal to kill wolves with one major exception, Matheys explained. Private landowners or any person with a landowner’s permission can kill a wolf if it is killing, wounding or even biting a domestic animal, which would include dogs, cows, pigs, sheep and a host of other animals. Of course, a wolf attacking a human can also be killed. If wolves are killed for any of these reasons, those killing them are obliged to notify the DNR within 24 hours.
Matheys emphasized it is not legal to take “a pot shot” at a wolf if it is not in the act of killing, wounding or biting a domestic animal or a human being.
The wildlife biologist acknowledged there is potential for any wolf to “make a meal out of a domestic animal,” but a single wolf would probably target a smaller domestic animal or a deer not a bull or steer. A single wolf might be more likely to prey on a calf, sheep or lamb—something they could handle by themselves without help from other members of the pack.
“I imagine that the dairy and livestock producers would not be too excited to see wolves show up,” Mcfarland said.
Actually, wolves, like coyotes, eat lots of small mammals like mice, voles and shrews. The wolf observed in the Gays Mills orchards last Friday morning appeared to be “moussing” in the open field at one point.
The significance of sighting an individual wolf in southern Wisconsin doesn’t mean much, according to Adrian Wydeven, another predator specialist working for the DNR in northern Wisconsin. He noted that wolves have been sighted and reported in most counties in the state. Wydeven also pointed to the animal’s ability to cover large ranges. Wolves tagged in Wisconsin have been found in Illinois, Indiana and Missouri, according to the Wydeven.
Is there a wolf pack in Crawford County?
“To the best of our knowledge there is not a pack in your part of the world,” Mcfarland said. “There are established packs in Jackson, Juneau and Adams counties.”
Could wolves establish a pack in the area?
The DNR’s carnivore specialist acknowledged that the wolf population in the state is steadily expanding. So, the establishment of a wolf pack here is “certainly possible.” He noted there are similarities in Crawford County to where wolves are currently living.
However, Mcfarland believes the big change this year, the introduction of wolf hunting season, will bring the population down and a reduced population will find more open habitat in the areas in which they are already established. This he believes may inhibit the expansion of the wolves’ territory.
While the Driftless Area environment, which features a mix of woods and farm fields, is similar to some areas in the state currently inhabited by wolves, it is not an ideal environment for the animals, according to Mcfarland. He noted two Driftless Area counties that are the most similar to Crawford County, Buffalo and Trempealeau, do not appear to be supporting wolf packs at this time.
So, while there probably was or is a wolf near Gays Mills, the experts don’t see it as the establishment of a pack or even an ongoing presence of the animal at this point.