When Tyler Netter of St. Cloud traveled north on Highway 2 near Rice, Sunday, Feb. 5, the last thing he expected to see was a lone gray wolf crossing the Highway 10. His wife, April, and stepson, Oakley, 11, who were with him were equally surprised.
“When I saw it, I got excited. It was cool. My wife and stepson had never seen a wolf before and didn’t know there were any in the area,” he said.
Even though wolf sightings near populated areas are uncommon, the sighting near the city of Rice is not a notable surprise, said John Erb, a wolf research biologist with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
When wolves are born into a pack, ages 1-3 wolves may eventually go out on their own to explore areas where they can establish their own territory and to find a mate, he said.
Since wolves are usually afraid of humans they tend to avoid populated areas. In some instances, wolves may venture into a populated area.
“In some areas, like around Duluth where there’s a lot of deer and close proximity to people, some wolves will choose to use those areas despite of human activity,” Erb said.
But sometimes they can find themselves in situations that bring them closer to civilization than they’d like.
“It can be that the wolf just followed a creek that goes through a town,” Erb said.
Netter and his family were on their way to visit some friends in Rice. It was near the northbound exit of Highway 10 they first spotted the wolf.
The wolf continued to run along Highway 2/ 25th Avenue Northeast, on the section between Hardware Hank and Pine Country Bank. When the wolf entered a somewhat enclosed area, Netter observed the wolf become seemingly confused and disoriented.
“When he started backtracking, I decided to cut him off with the truck. I didn’t want him to get hit by crossing Highway 10 or for him to cause an accident,” Netter said.
The wolf then turned around and ran into a wooded area near Pine Country Bank, Netter said.
Erb said there are two or three known wolf packs in Morrison County, mainly in the Camp Ripley area. A pack can range from only four or five wolves to as many as eight to 12.
The number of wolves in a pack is usually counted mid-winter before pups are born. There are about 2,200 wolves in Minnesota, Erb said.
Beau Liddell, wildlife manager at the DNR in Little Falls advises people who encounter wolves to leave them alone.
“Just leave it alone. A wolf will not chase you. If they are fearful, give them space,” Liddell said.
Wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act. They were first added to the list in the 1970s, but were removed in 2012, since they were no longer considered endangered. However, because of an administrative technicality, wolves were again added to the list in 2014.