Commonly Asked Questions About Wolves in the Upper Midwest

Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute / Timber Wolf Alliance / September 2002


Why did wolves disappear?

State and federal bounties (no longer in effect), loss of habitat. poaching, car kills, disease, starvation and parasites have all contributed to their decline. Today, thanks largely to protection provided by the 1973 Endangered Species Act, wolf populations have returned and are growing in the Upper Midwest.

How did wolves return to the Upper Great Lakes region?

Wolves were not "reintroduced" or transplanted in Minnesota, Wisconsin or Michigan from other states or countries, as some believe, although in 1974 an unsuccessful attempt to reintroduce 4 wolves in Michigan's Upper Peninsula from Minnesota occurred. All four were dead within a year. Unlike the reintroduction effort in Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, wolves of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan returned on their own. With the protection from the Endangered Species Act, passed in 1973, wolves were allowed to return without legal persecution from humans. Wolves emigrated from Ontario, into Minnesota. From Minnesota, wolves have moved into Wisconsin and Michigan's western Upper Peninsula. Wolves also emigrated from Ontario via the islands adjacent to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and moved into the eastern Upper Peninsula.

What are the current numbers of wolves and wolf packs in Wisconsin and Michigan?

Currently, there are 243-244 wolves in 66 packs in Wisconsin, and 249 wolves in 30-50 packs in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

What is the difference between "threatened" and "endangered" status of wolves?

Endangered means that the species is in danger of extinction; threatened means that the species is in danger of becoming endangered within the foreseeable future. For wolves, under the threatened status, government control trappers can legally euthanize wolves if those animals are confirmed to have killed livestock. Under "endangered" status, those wolves confirmed to have killed livestock are required to be relocated to a different area.

Is there compensation for loss of livestock due to wolves?

Yes, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan each have programs that reimburse livestock owners that have confirmed losses due to wolves. The livestock owner should contact the appropriate Department of Natural Resources Agency for further information.

Do wolves impact deer populations?

Usually one wolf eats 18-20 white-tailed deer per year in the Upper Great Lakes region. This includes scavenging of dead deer due to other causes. Wolves may have some impact on isolated deer populations (most often in island situations) but only when wolf densities are greater than one wolf per 10 square miles and deer densities are less than 4 deer per square mile. Winter severity has more of an impact on deer than do wolves. By comparison, in 1999 the wolf population in the Upper Great Lakes region was around 3,000. The estimated number of deer taken by these wolves was 60,000. The estimated number of deer that starved during the severe 1995-96 winter in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin was 300,000+. The estimated number of deer taken by hunters in 1998 in the same region was 660,000. That same year the estimated number of deer killed by vehicles was 73,000.

How large are gray wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan?

Gray wolves vary in size across the world. The gray wolf is the largest member of the wild canid family, standing about two and a half feet tall. Males are usually larger than females. In the Upper Great Lakes region adult males weigh between 60-100 pounds (average about 75 pounds). The adult females weigh between 50-70 pounds (average about 60 pounds). Wolves vary from four and a half to six feet long. The largest wolf live-trapped in Wisconsin was a 108 pound adult male.

How can you tell the difference between a wolf and a coyote?

Coyotes are smaller than wolves. A coyote is normally 20-22 inches tall, weighs 25-40 pounds and is 3.5 to 4.5 feet long. Coyote paw prints (without claws) average 2.5 inches or less, while the wolf averages over 3.5 inches. A coyote's face is more pointed than is that of a gray wolf. Wolves and coyotes do not often share territories; in fact wolves will drive off and sometimes kill coyotes. Wolves eat more fresh meat while coyotes are more frequent scavengers.