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Lone wolves arriving in Illinois

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Updated: January 8, 2012 8:20AM



A large canine shot in Jo Daviess County on Nov. 19 is expected to be confirmed as a wolf, said Craig Tabor , acting resident agent in charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The wolf was shot on private land by a hunter who mistook it for a coyote, then came forward voluntarily. Most of the 10-plus wolves in modern Illinois have been mistakenly shot by coyote hunters or hit by vehicles, said Joe Kath , endangered- species manager for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Kath said he had received two trail-cam photos of what looked to be a wolf within a few miles of each other from that area shortly before the shooting.

“If I had to say in my professional opinion, it is probably the same animal,’’ Kath said. “My gut, looking at the photo, says it is definitely more wolf than anything else. Whether pure or hybrid, I don’t know.’’

Tabor said the lab in Oregon is not backed up, so the DNA testing should not take long.

“It is a wolf, if you want my opinion,’’ said Tabor, who had extensive wolf experience while working in Idaho. “It was 100 pounds-plus. It topped out a scale that went up to 100 pounds.’’

This canine might mark a gateway of understanding. Nobody dances around the issue anymore: Wolves are arriving in Illinois.

The IDNR is beginning to take steps toward formal wolf management. Now there is a note and illustration in the hunting regulations for hunters to distinguish wolves, which are federally protected, from coyotes.

“It is to the point where one or two wolves are not a fluke anymore,’’ Tabor said. “They are extending their range to the south.’’

“Established packs are as far south as Beloit [in Wisconsin], you can only expect animals will make it over the border,’’ Kath said. “We are not seeing them in mass; we are seeing single young animals.’’

All confirmed wolves in modern Illinois have been dispersing young males.

“Nobody has reported a wolf pack in Illinois,’’ Tabor said. “So the ones that turned up are dispersers. But that’s how they expand their range. Ones bumped out of a pack expand out into new areas.’’

It is a small step from dispersing males to the first small wolf pack. Kath thinks a small pack (two or three animals) could establish in the remote stretches of northwest Illinois.

His concern isn’t with the biology of wolves.

“It is not a question of whether the pack will sustain itself, but [whether] the public be willing to accept the animals,’’ said Kath, who thinks they would.

His biggest concern would be predation on pets and on livestock.

Tabor understands the sociological question from his Idaho time.

“I have seen everything from the wolf being practically worshipped — worshipped might be a strong word — seen as a totem or a spirit or something that is symbolic of wildness or wilderness to the other end as absolute evil,’’ he said.

A decade ago, the question of wolves in Illinois was irrelevant. Not anymore.

“Wolves are always a hot-button issue,’’ Tabor said. “There are two widely divided camps who either love them or hate.’’

Hunting notes

Muzzleloader deer season is Friday through Sunday. . . . Will the freeze-up finally kick in waterfowl hunting in the north zone, where duck hunting ends Tuesday? Public sites have been slow.

Wild things

Another sturgeon, a small one, was found off Chicago on Friday and released alive in Lake Michigan. A photo is at Stray Casts ( blogs.suntimes.com/bowman/ ).

Stray cast

Some Hall of Fame nominations are like hooking a fish and handing the rod to a whiny 5-year-old.



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