Wolf sighting in the Black Hills? Conservation debate begins anew


Author: Steven Shaw
Date: 08.18.15

BLACK HILLS, South Dakota -  Wolves in South Dakota, in this day and age?  Impossible right?  Well, apparently not - a video obtained by TrailMob clearly shows a gray wolf allegedly roaming the Black Hills.

Earlier today, TrailMob spoke with the man who shot the video. He asked to only be identified as Lance. Lance told us that he and a buddy were out driving around the Black Hills on Friday, August 14th “scouting for elk” when they saw the wolf and that he “just happened to have a video camera handy.”  While a wolf in the Black Hills comes as a surprise to most of us, it is no surprise to Lance who says he has “seen three in the past two years and has heard of numerous others seeing them in the area.”

So an elk hunter spots a wolf in an area where they are not supposed to be…  “I could have shot it if I wanted to” he observed, and judging from the video he most surely could have landed the shot. But he didn’t. Lance insists he “does not have problem a with wolves… I don’t mind seeing a few here and there, I just don’t want them to get out of hand.” 

Lance says if wolves are going to be in South Dakota, they need to be managed to keep their numbers from exploding. When asked what the best management strategy was, he simply answered “hunting and trapping” but was also quick to point out that right now he would never consider killing a wolf because they are considered endangered. Admittedly, as an avid hunter Lance was not thrilled about the prospect of wolves in the Black Hills, but maintains that so long as their numbers are managed he does not really care, even going as far to say it is very cool seeing them in the wild, and judging from his friend’s reaction in the clip he’s not the only one.

TrailMob reached out to the Center for Biological Diversity after seeing the video. We wanted to make sure the animal was in fact a wolf and not a coyote (see graphic below for help in distinguishing between the two). The Center released us this statement after we showed them the video:  "Gray wolves lived in the Black Hills since time immemorial, and now this beautiful animal has returned .... Most people, regardless of their feelings about wolves, strive to follow the law, and it is incumbent on federal and state wildlife authorities to educate the public about this protected wolf's presence so it can't be mistaken for an unprotected coyote." (Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity)

The wolf debate has been raging across the country for more than twenty years. Since their reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park and the wilderness of central Idaho in 1995, wolves have slowly reclaimed pieces of their historical territory. Currently there are self-sustaining packs in Alaska, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Lone wandering wolves are not anomalies; often young non-dominate males will leave their pack in search of a mate. This is also the likely explanation for South Dakota’s newest predator.

Oregon did not reintroduce wolves; they reintroduced themselves from Idaho, forming packs in the remote and rugged Blue and Wallowa Mountains. Eventually, those packs grew and young adults splintered in hopes of establishing themselves as the Alpha males. That was the case for perhaps the world’s most famous wolf, OR-7. In September of 2011, OR-7 left his pack in northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains near Joesph. OR-7 wandered into western Oregon, becoming the first wolf to do so in many decades. By year’s end, his search for a mate took him into northern California. For the first time in nearly 90 years a gray wolf ran wild in the Golden State. For the next couple of years he traveled… making headlines… hanging out with coyotes… essentially looking for love in all the wrong places. OR-7 eventually returned to Oregon and in 2014 finally found a mate and has since settled down in the Siskiyou National Forest in the southern Cascades. The two formed the Rogue River Pack and have had pups. This marked the first time in nearly 70 years western Oregon had wolves. Today the Rogue Pack remains healthy with OR-7 sitting at its head.

While lone wolves in new territory are not uncommon, a violent death for them is all too common. Take the case of “Echo.” Late last year a lone female wolf wandered all the way to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park. Echo, as the wolf became known garnered international headlines for making such an incredible journey. Schoolchildren from around the world participated in the process of naming her. Fish and Wildlife data show that Echo was collared near Cody, Wyoming around the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park in January 2014. As the crow flies, she traveled well over 700 miles in under a single year. Echo was shot and killed outside of Beaver, Utah by a young hunter who mistakenly thought she was a coyote (see our graphic below). The hunter was never charged, but thousands around the world were heartbroken.

OR-7 Credit: USFWS

OR-7 Credit: USFWS