Wolves in North Dakota: What you need to know.
Guides and outfitters, for better or worse, often serve as North Dakota ambassadors to visitors of our state. And that includes acting as sources of information about the state’s flora and fauna – e.g. What are those pretty yellow birds that sing so nice? (meadowlarks) Do you have wild buffalo here? (no) Are there cougars/mountain lions/panthers here? (yes) Bears? (black yes, grizzly not any more) Elk? (yes) and the question addressed today: Are there wolves in North Dakota?
Yes. North Dakota historically hosted breeding populations of wolves, back in the 1800s when bison still roamed the prairie unfettered by fences. And even today wolves move through the state, either from Canadian or Minnesota populations, frequently. Even so, wolves are accidental, or incidental species, as detailed in a recent article by Brad Dokken (see: http://bismarcktribune.com/news/state-and-regional/wolves-remain-incidental-species-in-north-dakota/article_2e115075-6fe5-5c29-a13f-e7726c2c734f.html).
It can be difficult for someone unfamiliar with both timber wolves (70-120 lbs) and coyotes (30-45 lbs) to distinguish between the two in the field, especially at a distance. Clients who see a coyote for the first time in the wild may be tempted to report they have seen a wolf, but approximately 99.9 percent of the time they are seeing a coyote. This writer worked closely with wolves in a previous life with USFWS and even I would have trouble identifying the critters at a glance (one tip: think “lope” for wolves, “scamper” for coyotes as they run away).As far as threats (to us upright, two-legged types) in the field, wolves should be somewhere near the bottom of your list – looking up at skunks and mad badgers….and cornered coons….plus my wife when I track mud over a (rare but) freshly-mopped kitchen floor. Wolves are so rare in North Dakota that anyone actually seeing one should consider themselves fortunate, rather than threatened.