[ The Real McCoy Online Home ]                                                                                                                    August 28, 2009
Outdoors

Wolves continue to make a comeback

BY TIM WILDER, Fort McCoy Endangered Species Biologist

"Dances 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!

Photo: A wolf on the move is photographed by a remote camera during the night in the North Post area at Fort McCoy. (Photo by remote camera)
A wolf on the move is photographed by a remote camera during the night in the North Post area at Fort McCoy.
(Photo by remote camera)
   

Howling surveys 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.

Our survey started along the western edge of the North Impact Area 30 minutes after sunset.

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.

Midwestern wolf 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.

Wolf 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 over-winter population.

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!

 

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