Are there wolves in northern Illinois? Can they stay?

Are there wolves in northern Illinois? Can they stay?

By Rod Myers

By Rod Myers

Just days after the Rock River Times story about a gray wolf being killed in Missouri, I received a call about a gray wolf being seen in northeast Winnebago County. Renee McNitt told me about an animal that showed up on her wooded property.

“When I saw it, I was thinking wolf right away,” said Renee. “It had a presence about it. It was an animal I’d never seen before, and it was very large.” Renee is a student naturalist, and she works for the Illinois Conservation Voters.

When people see a wolf in the wild for the first time, it’s usually an experience they never forget. Obviously, people make mistakes about identifying wolves, but naturalists and experienced hunters make fewer mistakes than others. However, in some areas, being a hunter is no guarantee of being good at discerning wildlife species.

During the first weekend of the gun deer season, two gray wolves were shot in central Wisconsin. “Obviously, some hunters don’t know what they’re shooting at,” said Rich King, wildlife biologist at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge located in central Wisconsin. The wolves that were killed wore radio collars. Each collar had a mortality link on its collar, so biologists knew immediately after each animal had died and followed the signal directly to the corpse.

Would wolves have any kind of chance surviving in northern Illinois? “Ultimately, humans decide the fate of wolves, at least up to this point, anyway,” said King. Roads and traffic take a toll on wolves, and northern Illinois has no shortage of the traffic or roads. Though road-killed deer provide food for predators such as wolves, and there’s no shortage of live food. Deer, beaver and wild turkey are the top three foods of the Midwest wolf diet. Conflicts with humans and human property are inevitable, and farmers and hunters tend to squawk the most. Government statistics, however, claim that only one in 10,000 cattle deaths occurring in areas where wolves reside are due to wolves. It would be extremely tough for wolves to live in our vicinity’s rural areas, but mark my word, they are trying.

Gene Brown, director of Illinois Conservation Voters, saw two wolves cross a frozen Fox River in front of his home late last winter. “I was out in the yard when a wolf crossed the river. I got my camera out of the house in case it came back, when another wolf crossed the river,” said Brown. A naturalist, Brown has had experience with wolves in Canada.

“They probably crossed the river to get to the large forest preserve on the other side. My guess is they came down the Fox River corridor which originates in Wisconsin. Many people have seen these wolves and others in this area.” Luckily, Brown got a picture of the second wolf.

Randy Nyboer, Illinois DNR wildlife biologist stationed in Sterling, thinks that wolves could establish themselves in northwest Illinois. “Jo Davies and Carroll County have excellent habitat,” said Nyboer. “We know a few wolves occupy southwest Wisconsin and northeast Iowa, and it won’t be long before some of them move into northwest Illinois if they are not there already. They just may be in northwest Illinois, but we have received no reports of them so far.”

For those who don’t believe wolves are in northern Illinois, just remember—one picture is worth 1,000 words.

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