The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says a hunter who thought he was shooting a coyote shot a wolf near Fairbank in northeast Iowa’s Buchanan County. DNR furbearer biologist Vince Evelsizer says the gray wolf shot in February was somewhat of a surprise. “It’s unusual in that we don’t have a breeding population of them and so of course they are not very common at all. And this is the first documented one that we’ve had in quite some time,” Evelsizer says.
The DNR says the last documented wolf in the state was in 1925. The DNR ran DNA tests on the wolf to try and determine its home territory. Evelsizer says the DNA showed some indication that the animal may’ve come from the Great Lakes region, but that’s not for sure. There were some other indications the wolf could have come from that area. “It weighed about 65 to 70 pounds and it was a female. So it was probably and adult — and the interesting thing is the wolves in Minnesota and Wisconsin are typically about that size. They are not quite as big as further north,” Evelsizer explains.
Evelsizer says wolves were native to Iowa. “There are historic records that we had the grey wolf typically more in the eastern part of the state prior to European settlement. And were mostly extirpated or wiped out by the late 1800s or early 1900s. Out in the western part of Iowa there was what they called “bison wolves.” They were more of an open prairie or great plains type of wolf,” Evelsizer says. “We probably had wolves throughout the state, but probably not in really high numbers.”
The wolf is the latest predator to show up in Iowa. Mountain lions were shot and killed in northwest Iowa in December and in a Des Moines neighborhood in October of 2012. Evelsizer says the sightings are a study in the range and habits of the animals. “I think what’s been interesting about this is that it just further points out that the larger animals are capable of covering larger distances. So things like moose, black bears, mountain lions, and wolves now, have been documented to show up occasionally in our state,” Evelsizer says. “So, it’s just been an interesting phenomenon lately. But not something where they are going to show up behind every tree in every county.”
The killing of the mountain lion in Des Moines caused a lot of reports of possible sightings of the animals, most of which Polk County officials credited to bobcat sightings. Evelsizer says wolf and mountain lion sightings will remain rare, and aren’t something that should be a big concern. “I just always want to remind folks to use common sense if they should encounter one. The odds are very low — I think you probably almost have a better chance of being struck by lightening than encountering something like that in the wild,” Evelsizer says. That being said, I would continue to enjoy the outdoors. I always encourage folks to do that and just use common sense if you ever saw anything out of the ordinary.”
Evelsizer says wolves are protected in Iowa and can’t be shot. The DNR has not issued a citation to the hunter who shot the animal in Buchanan County as the hunter thought he was shooting a coyote and cooperated with them.