Wilder, The Real McCoy Contributor
Wolves leave signs of their
presence through tracks in the snow during a winter outing at
Fort McCoy. (Photo by Tim
I was obtaining my grade-school and high-school education, I was told
by both my parents and teachers on numerous occasions to learn a
most students, I took a semester of German, Spanish, and French, but
most of what I learned has long been forgotten. In order to improve my
job skills, 10 years ago I decided it was time to heed my parent’s
advice — I started learning sign language.
this was not your typical sign language — the sign I was trying to
decipher was being left by wolves, coyotes, and other critters as they
go about their business on Fort McCoy. When the first resident wolf
was documented on Fort McCoy in 1999, wolves were a federally
order to properly manage this species, we needed to know how many
wolves were on Fort McCoy and where they were living. I needed to
learn how to read wolf sign.
An otter, which likes to slide
through the snow, called tobogganing, left this sign at Fort
McCoy. (Photo by Tim
become proficient in this sign language, you need to understand things
like stride length, width of straddle, which animals have four toes
and which have five, which animals walk on their toes versus those
that are plantigrade (walk on the balls of their feet), which species
are likely to leave toenail marks and which will not.
is also beneficial to know something about the biology of the animals
you are tracking. For example, you are not likely to observe raccoon
tracks when the temperature is well below zero — they are spending
their time curled up in a hollow tree. Mink do not like to venture far
from water — you are likely to find their tracks crossing a road
near a stream or culvert.
like learning any new language, practice makes perfect. Well, maybe
not perfect, I am still learning something new every time I conduct a
far this winter, the tracks have told me that at least seven wolves
are living within a territory that includes most of North Post.
are that this pack contains an alpha male and female — so it is
likely that wolf pups will be born within an earthen den somewhere on
Fort McCoy in early April.
even if your boss doesn’t care if you learn a new language, grab a
good field guide and hit the woods and fields after the next snowfall
— you may be surprised at the stories that are written in the new
(Wilder is an Endangered
Species biologist for the Fort McCoy Directorate of Public Works.)