In a state without wolves for 89 years, two have been killed in a matter of months this year.
Like the first wolf, shot in February in Buchanan County, the second wolf, shot in late May in Jones County, was killed by a hunter who mistook it for a coyote.
Though wolves are a protected species in Iowa, neither hunter was charged or publicly identified.
In both cases, Department of Natural Resources conservation officers said they believed the hunters made an honest mistake and cooperated fully and immediately with investigators.
The Jones County wolf, shot at a distance of 80 yards, closely resembled a coyote except for the size difference, said DNR conservation officer Jared Landt, who investigated the incident.
“We believe that it was incidentally rather than intentionally shot,” Landt said.
Genetic evidence confirmed the Buchanan County canine was a wolf. Though test results are pending on the Jones County animal, DNR officials are confident it was a wolf.
The female weighed about 70 pounds, about twice the size of a typical Iowa coyote, Landt said.
It had long legs, big feet and a precaudal gland on its tail — all wolf characteristics, said DNR furbearer biologist Vince Evelsizer.
“We are saying it is a wolf. It is a wolf,” Evelsizer said.
Landt said DNR officers recognize the need to educate Iowans on the presence of wolves in Iowa and the possibility that they might see one.
“It has to be a ‘don’t shoot if you don’t know for sure’ scenario,” he said.
The DNR Wildlife Bureau is planning “more informational outreach to the public on wolves and other apex predators,” Evelsizer said.
“It’s great that the shooters came forward, but the incidents speak to a strong need for more public education,” said Amaroq Weiss, West Coast wolf organizer for the Center for Biological Diversity.
Weiss, who grew up in Ames and earned a bachelor’s degree from Iowa State University, said she is delighted that wolves are trying to reestablish themselves in what had been part of their original range.
Unless hunting and trapping pressure greatly reduces wolf populations in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, more wolves will be coming to Iowa, said Weiss who has been engaged in wolf conservation and advocacy for the past 17 years.
Weiss said her organization has tracked the fates of 65 dispersing wolves in various states. Of those, she said, 53 were killed when they wandered into terrain long uninhabited by wolves.
In at least 10 cases in which shooter statements were obtained, the wolves were killed after being mistaken for coyotes, she said.
In 30 other shooting cases, Weiss said, there is no indication whether the shooter mistook the wolf for a coyote or shot it knowing it was a wolf.
Evelsizer said the Jones County wolf had not whelped or nursed pups, which suggests she was 2 to 3 years old.
He described the wolf as in good health but “super lean” with a late spring coat that closely resembled that of a coyote in length and color.
“To our knowledge, the wolf had not been seen in the area by anyone else before it was shot,” Evelsizer said.
Nor, he said, had the DNR received any complaints of livestock or pets being attacked in the area.
Online news reports of the wolf killed in Buchanan County elicited a storm of comments critical of both the shooter and the DNR when the story was posted in May.
Evelsizer said he expects news of the shooting of a second wolf will elicit similar comments, though “hopefully not as many.”
Two subspecies of gray wolf lived in Iowa before settlement. The Great Plains wolf, which preyed primarily on stragglers of bison herds, lived in the western two-thirds of the state, and the gray (timber) wolf lived in the eastern third.
Encouraged by generous bounties, Iowa settlers, who considered wolves a threat to livestock, systematically killed them or drove them from the state.
In 1974, wolves were protected in the contiguous 48 states under the Endangered Species Act. In 2009, the gray wolf was removed from the endangered and threatened list in an upper Midwest region that includes the portion of Iowa north of Interstate 80.
But wolves, as designated furbearers, remain protected throughout the state under Iowa code.
The DNR, in a 2012 wolf status report, said a reliable researcher concluded that Iowa’s last valid wolf record occurred in Butler County in the winter of 1884-1885. The report also included a reference to a timber wolf taken in Shelby County in 1925 that appeared to be wild but may have escaped from captivity before being shot.
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