400 Mile Journey, Not Unusual for Wolves
He revealed that information in response to queries about the discovery of a dead male wolf in a soybean field in Indiana last June.
The lone wolf had an ear tag that showed it had been reintroduced in central Wisconsin and had traveled 400 miles making its way through southern Wisconsin farmland, around Chicago, through northern Illinois and eventually winding up close to the western Ohio border.
"It's a regular part of wolf behavior," Bangs said. "Biologists call such travel 'dispersal,' usually involving young males seeking out new territory and a mate."
Wolves were largely eliminated from the lower 48 states as settlers moved west. Early settlers were smart enough to know wolves would decimate their livestock if left unchecked.
However, since the mid 1990's, the wolf population has exploded thanks to Bruce Babbitt and the Clinton administration that initiated the federal government's wolf recovery program and the severe penalties visited on anyone who dares kill a wolf to protect his property.
Kelle Reynolds, a biologist for the Hoosier National Forest, witnessed a quick spread of wolves through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when she worked there and seems to have a nonchalant attitude if they infested Indiana too. "I don't know what the public would think about it," she said.
Experts Weigh Prospect Wolves Could Return Here
INDIANAPOLIS -- The recent death of a wolf that wandered more than 400 miles from Wisconsin to Indiana has wildlife experts weighing whether more wild wolves might someday return to Indiana forests.
The discovery of the dead wolf was the first confirmed sighting since 1908, raising the prospect that other wolves could return to the state, where they once roamed widely.
"I think it's going to be a remote possibility, but I wouldn't say it was absolutely impossible," said Adrian Wydeven, a Wisconsin state biologist who monitors the population of wolves there.
The 1-year-old, male gray wolf was found dead in an east-central Indiana soybean field in late June. The ear-tagged wolf had traveled more than 400 miles from its pack in central Wisconsin, apparently looking for new territory. Officials said Monday the wolf had been shot to death. They have no leads in the case.
Biologists call such travel "dispersal," usually involving young males seeking out new territory and a mate.
"Once they get out of the heavily forested areas ... they become disoriented and travel great distances in a straight line," Wydeven said.
The wolf apparently traveled through the farmland of southern Wisconsin, skirted around Chicago through northern Illinois and crossed Indiana nearly to Ohio before dying.
Such lengthy journeys are not unheard of, said Ed Bangs, wolf-recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
"It's a regular part of wolf behavior," Bangs told The Indianapolis Star for a story published Tuesday. "The fact that they head south that far, and through open country, is pretty unusual."
But he does not expect a wolf pack to get started in the fragmented forests of southern Indiana because many wolves that roam such distances die on the journey.
Wolves were hunted, shot and chased out of most of the United States as settlers moved west. By the 1960s, there were believed to be as few as 350 in the lower 48 states, all roaming the woods around the town of Ely in the northeast corner of Minnesota, said Andrea Lorek Strauss, education director for the International Wolf Center in that town.
Wolves were placed on the endangered species list in the 1970s, and their numbers have rebounded. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded their status to "threatened" in most of the country earlier this year.
If wolves in Wisconsin continue to disperse to the south in search of new territory, Indiana may not have seen the last of them.
"I'd be very surprised if ... a population is established in the state, but only time is going to tell that for sure," said Lori Pruitt, endangered species coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Bloomington.
Kelle Reynolds, a biologist for the Hoosier National Forest, witnessed a quick spread of wolves through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan when she worked there.
"Personally, I think it would be incredible" if wolves were in the Hoosier National Forest, she said. But, she added, "I don't know what the public would think about it."
Gail Former of rural Spencer would not be pleased.
"I'm not particularly enthused about it because wolves will prey on sheep, which is what I raise," said Former, president of the Indiana Sheep Association. "We have enough of an issue in this state with coyotes and dog packs that run loose. It would be very alarming."
Wolf Suspected In Sheep Deaths
"I cannot confirm the presence of a wolf there. The killings suggest a wolf and I am comfortable saying it is a large canine," Bodenchuk said. "I can say it wasn't a coyote or a bear or a lion."
Eleven sheep have been killed in about a 6-mile radius near the town of Woodruff. The most recent was a single killing Aug. 22. Woodruff is not far from where two wolves were shot in Wyoming in March for killing livestock.
With no tracks, hair or witnesses, Bodenchuk is careful about placing blame, but he says he is swayed by several factors.
"The fact it is close to where the others were shot and because the animals were killed in a similar pattern consistent with wolf damage leads me to believe it was a wolf," he said.
Bodenchuk said wolves, being pack animals, attack the flanks of their prey, while other canine predators such as coyotes go for the throat and head areas. A nearly 40-pound calf was all but consumed, something more typical of a wolf than a coyote. Adding to the confusion is that the other dead sheep were covered with bites, but not really fed upon.
"That is pretty classic of a [domestic or hybrid] dog," said Ed Bangs, the wolf recovery leader in the northern Rockies for the Fish and Wildlife Service. "We have had a number of wolf/dog hybrids released in the wild in that area. What typically happens is they come around and then they vanish because they starve to death, somebody runs them over or another predator kills them. That could have been the situation in this case. If it was a wolf and it moved on, it would be killing sheep somewhere else."
DWS employees flew over the kill areas twice, including the day after the latest attack, but failed to spot a wolf.
Contrary to Bangs' belief that it was probably a dog doing the killing, Bodenchuk says the fact the animal cannot be found confirms it was probably a wolf.
"The nature of the wolf is here today and gone tomorrow. It doesn't surprise me that we can't find it," he said.
Bodenchuk, who has the authority to kill a wolf if he believes it is killing livestock, said the hunt for the sheep killer will continue.
Bangs pointed out that the wolf was downlisted on the Endangered Species List in April from endangered to threatened, and citizens now have the right to kill a wolf if they see it attacking livestock, herding or guarding animals and domestic dogs.
Regardless of whether the issue in Woodruff is resolved, DWS biologists say they expect to hear more on the wolf front in the coming months. Adam Kozlowski, a sensitive-species biologist in the division's northern region, said during the summer he received about one wolf sighting report a month.
"Things will pick up during the dispersal season, which is typically between November and February," Kozlowski said.
In addition to the problem wolves killed in Wyoming east of Bear Lake in March, there were several reports of sightings in Logan Canyon from Highway 89 near the Beaver Mountain Ski Area last winter. None, though, was confirmed.
The appearance of a wolf in a coyote trap near Morgan in November proved that wolves have discovered Utah.
"Wolves & People, Seeking Common Ground" is a six-part lecture series beginning Wednesday at Red Butte Garden in Salt Lake City.
The free lectures are sponsored by the Wallace Stegner Center, the Utah Museum of Natural History and Red Butte Garden.
The first lecture comes from filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher, who spent six years filming a wolf pack in Idaho's Sawtooth Mountains.
The Sept. 24 lecture will be held at the Marriott Library Gould Auditorium on the University of Utah campus and will deal with the legal issues involved with the dispersal of wolves into Utah.
Ed Bangs, gray wolf recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will talk about the restoration of wolves in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming on Oct. 1 at the Marriott Library.
Biologist Paul Paquet will discuss the role of the wolf in ecosystems at the Oct. 8 lecture, which will also be held at the Marriott Library.
A third-generation livestock operator from Idaho will discuss issues the reintroduction of wolves have brought to the ranching community at the Oct. 15 lecture at the Marriott Library.
The series finale will include a panel discussion addressing the issues of managing wolves in Utah from local speakers with multiple points of view on the subject. It will be held Oct. 22 at Red Butte Garden.
-- Brett Prettyman
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]