Illinois DNR/ USFWS clarify status of gray wolves in Illinois

By on February 3, 2012

SPRINGFIELD—The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service remind the public that the service’s recent action removing federal Endangered Species Act protection for gray wolves in portions of the Midwest has changed the status of wolves in Illinois north of Interstate 80.

While wolves dispersing from northern states into Illinois are rare, any gray wolves in Illinois found north of I-80 are listed as threatened under state law, while those south of the interstate remain federally endangered. The change became effective Jan. 27.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed ESA protection for the gray wolf in portions of the western Great Lakes because wolves in the core recovery states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have exceeded recovery goals and no longer need the protection of the act to survive. In areas where wolves were delisted, which includes parts of adjoining states like Northern Illinois, where wolves may possibly disperse, states and tribes are now responsible for wolf management. The service will oversee wolf population monitoring efforts for at least five years to ensure wolves continue to thrive.

Despite the Federal Status change of wolves within the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment (including all counties north of I-80 in Illinois), wolves remain a protected species throughout the entire state of Illinois.

Gray wolves continue to be listed as state-threatened throughout Illinois (by law, specimens listed as state-threatened receive the full protection of the State of Illinois’ Endangered Species Protection Act), which means it is unlawful for hunters or others to take or possess wolves anywhere in the state. In addition, wolves shall remain protected as endangered under the Federal Endangered Species Act in Illinois south of I-80 (outside of the Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment) for the foreseeable future. See www.fws.gov/midwest/wolf for further details on the status of gray wolves in Illinois and other areas in the Midwest.

In the past 10 years, Illinois hunters and others have encountered wolves in the state on various occasions, including a wolf struck by a car in McHenry County near Chain O’Lakes State Park in 2005. The potential for range expansion will continue as long as habitat and food sources are available.

While it is unlikely that Illinois citizens will encounter a wolf in the wild, they are encouraged to contact the Illinois DNR at (217) 782-6302 if they suspect they have seen one.

Wolves resemble coyotes but are taller, heavier, and have other characteristics that set
them apart. Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes were once nearly gone, with wolves surviving only in Minnesota. Under ESA protection and recovery programs, gray wolves have expanded into Michigan and Wisconsin, and the region’s population has rebounded. There are an estimated 2,921 wolves in Minnesota, 782 in Wisconsin, and 687 in Michigan. Wolves occasionally disperse into adjoining states but no packs have been established in the Midwest outside the core recovery states.

During the time wolves in the western Great Lakes were delisted (from March 12, 2007, to Sept. 29, 2008, and from May 4, to July 1, 2009) the wolf population remained stable under state management; illegal killing of wolves dropped in Wisconsin and remained the same in Michigan.

For more information on gray wolves in the Midwest, go to www.fws.gov/midwest/ wolf. For information on Illinois’ state and threatened wildlife, go to http://dnr.state.il.us/espb.