BY TIM WILDER, Fort McCoy
Endangered Species Biologist
With Wolves" was a popular 1990 movie starring Kevin Costner. No
one is likely to confuse Natural Resources Branch/Environmental
Division employees with Kevin Costner, and one also could argue that
we weren’t really dancing with wolves, but merely conducting a
survey to determine if the wolf pack on Fort McCoy was successful in
rearing pups in 2009. That is why, on a crisp, dark July night, we
slowly traversed North Post, stopping every mile or so to howl. Yes,
you read correctly, to howl!
A wolf on the move is photographed by a
remote camera during the night in the North Post
area at Fort McCoy.
by remote camera)
are conducted during the summer and early autumn, when the howl of an
adult wolf can be differentiated from that of a pup. Surveys are
conducted by stopping at locations throughout a pack’s territory and
imitating a wolf howl. If within hearing distance, wolves often will
howl back to warn intruders that this territory is occupied.
started along the western edge of the North Impact Area 30 minutes
As the light
faded and the stars became visible, it was evident that it was going
to be a beautiful evening to conduct a survey.
At the first
stop I howled and we listened intently, but no wolves howled back. As
we reached our second stop, Soldiers training on Range 18 began to
conduct a night-fire training exercise. I howled, but again no
response. It wasn’t until stop five, at 10:40 p.m. that we struck
canine gold — wolves howled back!
If you have
never heard the howl of a wild wolf on a calm dark night, you are
missing something very special. There is a primeval quality to a wolf
howl that is difficult to describe.
If you have never heard the howl of a wild wolf on a calm
dark night, you are missing something very special.
Each time I
hear a wolf howl, an image comes to mind of early settlers listening
to wolves howl outside their cabin doors.
populations have been in the news lately after being placed back on
the Federal Endangered Species List. This re-listing occurred to allow
additional time for public comment on the removal of wolves from
federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.
populations in Wisconsin exceed the recovery goal of maintaining 350
wolves outside of Indian reservations. Wisconsin’s 2008/2009 winter
population was estimated between 626-662 animals, with 599 wolves
being found outside of Indian reservations. Seven of these wolves were
members of the Fort McCoy pack. It is likely that sometime within the
next year wolves will once again be removed from federal listing. This
will provide state agencies with increased flexibility when managing
problem wolves (those killing livestock or pets) while at the same
time ensuring that wolves will be permanent residents in the Midwest.
A minimum of
three wolves howled back at us on that early July night, but,
unfortunately, they were all adults. Did the wolf pack on Fort McCoy
produce pups in 2009?
Only time will
tell. If the military training schedule allows, additional howling
surveys will be conducted in late summer or early fall. Once the first
snows fall, track surveys will be conducted to determine the pack’s
Though we were
not successful in determining if wolf pups currently exist within the
pack, we did have a successful evening dancing with the wolves!