Thursday, December 10, 2015

Official: Wolves could wander into North Iowa

CLEAR LAKE | A possible wolf shooting in northwest Iowa last weekend is an extremely rare event, but an increase in the species populations in other states might mean a wolf could wander into North Iowa, an official says.

Samples from the 98-pound wolf-like animal shot on Saturday by a coyote hunter in Osceola County will be analyzed to determine if the animal is a wolf or a wolf-dog hybrid.

Officials say the animal, if it is a wild wolf, would likely be a gray wolf from Minnesota or Wisconsin. Iowa does not have a breeding population of wolves, but animals believed to be from other states occasionally enter the state.

Last year, two wolves were shot in eastern Iowa.

While Iowans aren't likely to see many wolves, a federal court decision this year once again giving those animals protected status means the animals' populations are likely to increase in their home states, said Vince Evelsizer, the state fur-bearer biologist for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources .

"What that means here in Iowa is the likelihood of getting some roving visitors into our state increases," said Evelsizer, of the agency's Clear Lake office.

It wouldn't be surprising if some of the approximately 2,500 wolves in Minnesota and another 1,500 – 2,000 in Wisconsin and Michigan showed up in Iowa, said David Mech, a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and founder of the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota.

"Maturing wolves often disperse hundreds of miles from where they were born," the University of Minnesota-based Mech said via e-mail. "There are many recent examples of wolves from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan being killed in Illinois, Indiana, and farther south, east and west."

The nearest population of wolves to Iowa are about 130 miles away in north-central Minnesota and 75 miles away in central Wisconsin, he said.


Evelsizer, who is coordinating testing on the animal that was shot last weekend in Iowa, said there were a few wolf reports in northwest Iowa prior to the animal being shot last weekend. Officials hadn't been able to verify those claims.

"It hadn't been enough that it moved us to put out a watch or something or a warning," he said.
State wildlife officials receive weekly reports of Iowans who think they see large predators.
In October 2014, a Mason City resident took cell phone pictures of an animal near the Mason City YMCA she believed was a mountain lion.

Officials were openly skeptical and that sighting was not confirmed.

Wolves and mountain lions did once reside in North Iowa at one time, but were pushed out due to over-hunting around the time of settlement and also suffered habitat loss, said Cerro Gordo County Conservation Director Mike Webb.

Several species suffered the same fate.

If wolves did swing through Iowa with more frequency while roaming outside their home states, they wouldn't pose a public safety threat, Evelsizer said.

He said the animal in Osceola County, whatever it was, didn't generate any complaints of safety threats against humans or attacks on livestock.

"Folks don't need to worry that they can't go outside," Evelsizer said.