Kevin Woster Journals staff
They don’t show up often in the Black Hills. But when they do, they get people’s attention.
Federal wildlife officials are investigating the killing of a wolf near Custer, as news of the incident spread Thursday through the sporting community in the Black Hills.
Brad Merrill, a special agent for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in Pierre, said that he couldn’t discuss specifics of the incident, which remains under investigation. He said samples from the animal had been shipped to a laboratory in the state of Washington to determine if it is “pure wolf.”
“It can be difficult to distinguish sometimes,” Merrill said.
Merrill said wolves are still protected in most areas, including western South Dakota. And the gray wolf is on the state list of rare, threatened or endangered species.
But elsewhere there are seasons on wolves, which have been taken off the endangered species list in states that include Montana and Idaho.
John Kanta, regional wildlife program manager for the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department in Rapid City, said that wolves move through the state occasionally from established populations in states to the east and west. But there is no evidence of a breeding pair or pack in the state, Kanta said.
“The last confirmed wolf here in western South Dakota was hit by a vehicle on I-90 in March of 2006,” Kanta said. “It was a male that weighed about 115 pounds and was estimated at 2 years old.”
Testing done on that wolf indicated that it was from populations to the west of South Dakota, Kanta said.
GF&P gets periodic reports of animals thought to be wolves. Last Friday, GF&P staffers joined the Rapid City Police Department in responding to a report of a wolf in the western part of town. Officers couldn’t find signs of a wolf and didn’t see the animal in question, however.
“We’re not saying absolutely that it wasn’t a wolf. We’re saying that it’s pretty unlikely that a wild wolf would wander into the city,” Kanta said. “We certainly believe the gentleman who contacted us saw something that looked like a wolf.”
Sometimes coyotes may be mistaken for wolves, even though they are typically only about a third as big. And there are wolf-mix dogs or dogs that resemble wolves that also can be confusing, Kanta said.
Wolves are controversial in other states, and of particular concern to livestock producers. Wolves can be aggressive predators on livestock.
“There’s no doubt that wolves can be pretty hard on livestock producers,” Kanta said. “I’m of the opinion that wolves would be even more controversial in South Dakota than lions.”