Federal wildlife agency investigating wolf killing in northern Wisconsin

It's largely illegal to kill a wolf while the animal is under federal protection

A federal court ruling placed gray wolves back on the endangered species list in 2022.

Federal officials are investigating the killing of a gray wolf in northern Wisconsin on Christmas day.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources confirmed law enforcement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is investigating the Dec. 25 incident. Randy Johnson, the DNR’s large carnivore specialist, said he believed the killing was first reported to county authorities. Law enforcement with the DNR were notified soon after the incident, and the investigation shifted to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Johnson said he couldn’t share further details since the investigation is ongoing. The Ashland Daily Press reported a Bayfield County resident called the sheriff’s office to report they had killed a wolf when it approached their back door.

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A federal court ruling in 2022 placed wolves back on the Endangered Species List. It’s illegal to kill a wolf that’s under federal protection except when necessary to save a person’s life. People who illegally kill an endangered species can face a maximum of one year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine. Organizations can face up to a $200,000 fine. 

Wisconsin has about 1,000 wolves, according to the DNR. The agency’s website states that cases of healthy wolves attacking people are extremely rare. The DNR said most incidents involve interactions with domestic dogs or occur when wolves have become accustomed to humans.

“A person has never been killed or injured in Wisconsin by a wild wolf in recorded history,” Johnson said in an email.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there haven’t been any documented gray wolf attacks in the lower 48 states.

Johnson noted there have only been two fatal wolf attacks on humans across North America in the last 20 years. Researchers have documented at least 26 fatal wolf attacks worldwide from 2002 to 2020. 

Johnson noted there have been about a half dozen incidents where wolves have injured people across the continent since 2002. He said those attacks have mostly occurred in Canada. However, a wolf bit a 16-year-old boy in 2013 at a campground in north central Minnesota, but the wound was not life-threatening.

The DNR’s most recent wolf monitoring report found eight wolves were illegally killed out of 32 known wolf deaths that occurred from mid-April 2022 to mid-April of last year. 

A study by researchers at UW-Madison found around 100 wolves were killed illegally in 2021 after the Trump administration delisted the animal. In February of that year, state-licensed hunters killed 218 wolves in less than three days, consuming their share and Ojibwe tribe’s portion of a 200-wolf quota. 

Another 2018 study by UW-Madison researchers and a former DNR wolf biologist found illegal killings account for 9 percent of wolf deaths each year.