Wolves were eliminated from most of the lower 48 states by the mid-1960s with only a small population in northern Minnesota.

By 1974, gray wolves were protected as an endangered species in all 48 states. Since then, populations have grown and become established in the western Great Lakes region, which includes Iowa. The gray wolf was officially delisted from endangered and threatened in 2009.

Two subspecies of gray wolves were once found in Iowa: The Great Plains wolf, which followed bison herds on the plains, and the Eastern Timber Wolf which was found in the wooded areas of the state.

As the Western Great Lakes wolf population grew in the mid-1990s, a few wolves were appearing in nearby Wisconsin and southeast Minnesota – as close as 75 miles from the Iowa border, according to the Iowa DNR. This Driftless region around the Mississippi River is relatively rugged and could provide suitable habitat for wolves, however, most of Iowa is considered unsuitable for breeding.

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By 1998 in Minnesota, the estimated Gray Wolf population was over 2,000, which has remained stable. The Iowa DNR said that Iowa’s last valid wolf sighting occurred in Butler County in the winter of 1884-1885 – until the past couple of decades.

In Iowa, according to the DNR, there have been several reports of wolves since 2004 primarily in the eastern and northern counties and a few have been confirmed with tracks or photos. In 2014, two female wolves were shot in Buchanan and Jones County. The wolves shot in 2014 weighed close to 70 pounds and were estimated to be 2 years old. It is likely both of these wolves traveled into Iowa from Minnesota, Wisconsin, or Michigan.

In 2002, a wolf was shot in Houston County, Minnesota, which is adjacent to Allamakee County. Wolf tracks have been seen at Effigy Mounds National Monument in Allamakee County.

The Gray Wolf’s territory ranges in size from less than 50 square miles to more than 1,000 square miles, depending on habitat and available prey. Wolves travel over large areas to hunt, as far as 30 miles in a day and they can run as fast as 40 miles per hour for short distances.

How to differentiate a wolf from a coyote:

Wolves are bigger, taller, twice as heavy (if not more), and have short rounded ears, compared to a coyote’s longer and pointy ears.

Their tracks are nearly identical, but a wolf’s paw is much bigger.

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