Wolves are a protected species in Iowa, but a hunter who mistook one for a coyote has shot and killed a healthy young female. Due to full cooperation with the authorities the hunter has not been cited.
The animal was shot back in February in Buchanan County, but DNA tests have now been carried out which are conclusive that it was definitely a Canis Lupis, or grey wolf. This makes it the first such sighting of the species in the state of Iowa since 1925, 89 years ago.
Wolves are capable of travelling immense distances and it is believed it may have come either south from Wisconsin or perhaps from Minnesota where the population is now well re-established.
In 1974 it was estimated that there were only 300 grey wolves left in the entire lower 48, and it was then they were given protection. Their key role in the ecological chain has been proven in the decades since, most especially in the Yellowstone National Park.
Amongs the many benefits the return of the wolves has brought to Yellowstone include an astounding explosion in biodiversity and remarkable regrowth of young forest. Their role as a predator controls populations of elk and deer and prevents over-grazing. Before the wolves came back in the 1990s, the elk were eating all the willows that grow next to water. This, in turn, impacted on the beavers, who had no building materials to make their dams.
Although the riparian ecosystems are still not fully restored, once the willows grow back to a height of two metres, they will be safe from being destroyed by the elk. In some sites, simulated beaver dams have been built to help to restore the water tables.
Despite the scientific vindication of the role of the wolf, the animal had its protection removed in 2011, the only species this has ever happened to. Their numbers were said to have rebounded to such an extent that they were no longer endangered, and hunting was one again permissible in the Rocky Mountain states. Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, said they were a success story for the Endangered Species Act and that “from a biological perspective” they were recovered.
Since hunting and trapping wolves became legal again in many states, 2,567 are thought to have been killed since 2011. Iowa is one of the states where they are still under protection, not as an endangered species, but as a “designated furbearer.” Overall numbers across the US continent are thought to be in the region of 6,000.
In February of this year a five member peer review panel from the US Fish and Wildlife Service challenged the lifting of the federal protections and plans to extend them and said that the government had used “unsettled science” to reach its conclusions.
An Iowan Department of Natural Resources furbearer expert, Vince Evelsizer, said that he was not surprised by the DNA findings that the supposed coyote turned out to be a wolf. He had written a report last year where he predicted a grey wolf would soon be found in the state. Black bear and mountain lions are other large predators said to have re-entered in small numbers.
Given that coyotes do look remarkably similar to wolves and are legal to kill, Conservation officer Scott Kinseth advises all Iowan hunters “If in doubt, don’t shoot.”
By Kate Henderson