Photo by: Wisconsin Department of Natural Recourses
Wolves are the largest member of the dog family. Males are usually larger than females. Wolves have many color variations, but tend to be tan with grey and black. Wolves can be distinguished by their track. A wolf, along with other wild canids, usually place their hind foot in the track left by the front foot. Where as a dog’s front and hind tracks seldom overlap each other. Wolves are social animals, living in family groups or packs. A pack usually consists of six to ten animals. There is usually a dominant male and female who are in charge of the pack, raising young, selecting a den site, capturing food, and maintaining territory. A pack’s territory may cover 20-120 square miles. Thus, wolves require a lot of space to live, a fact that often invites conflict with humans. While neighboring packs may share a common border, their territories seldom overlap. A wolf that trespasses in another packs territory risks being killed by that pack. Wolves know where their territory ends and another’s begin by smelling urine and feces left by other wolves. Wolves also announce territory by howling. Wolves are carnivores, feeding on other animals. The diet of a wolf includes white-tailed deer, beavers, and snow shoe hare, along with other animals. White-tail deer comprise of over 80 percent of their diet much of the year. However, beavers become an important part of their diet in spring and fall when they spend much of their time on shore.
Wolves existed in Wisconsin from the time glaciers melted, about 10,000 years ago. These wolves followed herds of musk ox and caribou that also moved in after the ice melted. Native Americans followed the wolves along with other grazing animals and coexisted with them. The natives respected the wolves for their hunting skills; they were also an important symbol in the culture of Native American tribes. Before Wisconsin was settled in the 1830s, wolves lived throughout the state. Nobody knows how many wolves there were, but best estimates would be 3,000-5,000. Explorers, trappers, and settlers transformed Wisconsin’s native habitat into farmland, hunted elk and bison to extirpitation, and reduced deer populations. As the wolves prey declined, they began to feed on livestock. This was unpopular among farmers. In response to the pressure from farmers, the Wisconsin legislature passed a state bounty in 1865 offering five dollars for every wolf killed. By 1900, no wolves existed in the southern two thirds of the state. As sport hunting of deer became an economical boost to Wisconsin, the state supported elimination of wolves to preserve deer populations. The wolf bounty increased to twenty dollars. The state bounty persisted until 1957 and few wolves were left. Ironically studies have shown that wolves have minimal negative impact on deer populations, since they feed primarily on weak, sick, and disabled animals. Healthy deer herds are allowed to thrive and produce trophy animals. In 1957 wolves were listed as protected and by 1960 wolves were considered to be extinct in Wisconsin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated the Eastern Timber Wolf as being endangered in 1967 and 1974. In 1975, the