WAUSAU - Wisconsin has more than 200 wolf packs and 28 lone wolves and you can help track them this winter.
The state Department of Natural Resources will hold 15 workshops or classes on tracking and wolf ecology from now to February and is recruiting volunteers to help monitor the state's wild canines.
Gray wolf numbers have increased in the Great Lakes region especially since a federal judge returned the animals to the endangered species list in 2014. Gray wolves are also known as timber wolves.
Wolves in western states have preyed on elk, which in turn helped the growth of aspen and willow trees and decreased erosion along streams where the trees take root, said Adrian Wydeven, the coordinator of the Timber Wolf Alliance, at the private Northland College in Ashland. In Wisconsin, wolves have decreased the beaver population to the benefit of trout streams previously plugged up by beaver dams, Wydeven said.
In 1990 the Timber Wolf Alliance started Wolf Awareness Week, an educational effort which runs through Saturday. There's a wolf ecology workshop in Ashland Saturday as part of the week.
In honor of wolf awareness, here are some fast facts about wolves in the Great Lakes.
- Wisconsin has nearly 900 wolves this year. That's up 16 percent from 2015, according to the Timber Wolf Alliance.
- Encountering a wild wolf at close range is still a rare occurrence, according to the DNR's "Living with wolves" page. People with pets should keep them in earshot or on a leash while in "wolf country" — Wisconsin's Northwoods.
- In 2014 more Wisconsin residents surveyed by the DNR viewed wolves in a favorable light compared to those with unfavorable feelings toward wolves. About 26 percent of people in areas with wolf habitats wanted the population to stay steady, and 29 percent of people outside of wolf range wanted wolf numbers to stay the same in 2014. About 750 wolves made Wisconsin home in 2014-15.
- Minnesota has the largest wolf population among Great Lakes states with more than 400 packs and roughly 2,200 wolves total, according to the Timber Wolf Alliance. Michigan's wolf population estimate is just over 600 and declined slightly from 2014 to 2016
- You can help track wolves and other Wisconsin carnivores. Volunteers have to take a wolf ecology course from the DNR, Timber Wolf Alliance or Timber Wolf Information Network as well as a DNR tracking course and a mammal track test. Volunteers complete three wildlife surveys and submit their findings to the state.