By Maria Lockwood
A wolf that reportedly showed no fear of humans was captured and euthanized on the outskirts of the city of Superior Oct. 29.
The yearling male, which had a black coat, has been seen by Canadian National employees at the Pokegama railroad yard right outside the city limits.
They reported that the wolf had come close to workers and was not scared away by a loud train whistle or when they threw rocks at it. Past encounters with wolves in the area, they reported, were brief sightings before a wolf would disappear. But this one had no fear. Such an incident is rare.
“Wild wolves generally fear and avoid people at all costs,” said Michael Zeckmeister, northern district wildlife supervisor for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). “Most people are not going to see a wolf.”
There are three main reasons a wolf would show no fear of humans, he said. Either it’s sick, a wolf-dog hybrid or habituated to people.
“Normally, any type of negative wolf encounter with humans is a function of wolves being fed by humans,” Zeckmeister said.
Whether wolves or bears, he said, people should not be feeding them.
The report led to consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“It was in our court,” Zeckmeister said, but “Since the gray wolf in the Western Great Lakes Region is currently on the endangered species list, it limits our ability to do anything, including harvesting a wolf that posed a threat to human health and safety.”
The DNR received the go-ahead from Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Wildlife Services began trapping efforts Oct. 24. A total of six wolves were trapped. The black wolf was euthanized; two others were fitted with radio collars before being released, Zeckmeister said.
The yearling male, basically a teenager, may have had poor judgment, he said, but simply trapping and relocating the animal wasn’t the solution. Genetic testing confirmed it was not a wolf-dog hybrid, but it was too comfortable around humans.
“That wolf would have caused problems somewhere else,” Zeckmeister said.
Wisconsin has about 230 active wolf packs and an April 2017 wolf population count estimated at least 950 wolves roam the state. That’s a 7 percent increase from 2016.
A map of pack ranges available on the DNR website showed about 34 packs with at least a portion of their range within Douglas County. The average pack size is five to six animals.
The city of Superior encompasses approximately 42 square miles, but it’s not human-only territory.
“It just so happens we have a wolf pack that overlaps with that land mass,” Zeckmeister said.
The pack’s range extends into Superior’s south end. The wild, brushy areas of the city are prime habitat for rodents like mice and rabbits, prey that attracts wolves, foxes and coyotes.
People aren’t likely to see a wolf walking down main street, Zeckmeister said, but he had some tips if people do see one.
“Resist the temptation to get closer,” he said. “Just stand tall, make yourself look big and calmly back away.”
He encouraged anyone walking or biking with their dog in wilder areas that may be good wolf habitat to keep their pet under control on a leash.
“Wolves usually avoid people at all costs,” Zeckmeister said. “Very rarely do they pose a threat to humans. When one does, we have to move quickly.”
To report concerns about wolves or bears that may be habituated to humans, call the DNR hotline at 1-888-936-7463. Bear concerns can also be reported to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1-800-228-1368.