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Local News

Wildlife managers report first possible wolf pack sighting in NV in over 100 years

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Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
March 28, 2024

State wildlife managers reported a possible wolf pack sighting in Nevada for the first time in over 100 years on Wednesday.

Last week, a helicopter crew conducting an aerial moose survey spotted three suspected wolves traveling together in northeast Nevada near Merritt Mountain, north of Elko. State wildlife biologists are now working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to confirm the sighting of one of Nevada’s most iconic native carnivores.  

“The Nevada Department of Wildlife observed three suspected wolves, but we have not officially confirmed the sighting yet. We continue to investigate to learn more about the animals,” said Ashley Zeme, the public information officer for NDOW.

Fresh tracks in the area were consistent with wolves, according to state biologists, who conducted ground surveys immediately after the sighting. Those tracks led in the direction of the Idaho border, before disappearing in broken snow conditions. Within the next few months, DNA testing from two scat and hair samples collected in the area will definitively confirm whether or not the pack sighted were indeed wolves, according to NDOW.

A single gray wolf was documented in Nevada west of the Black Rock Desert in 2016. Before then, the last confirmed Nevada sighting of a wolf was in 1922, near Elko County’s Gold Creek.

“We are doing all we can to gather information regarding this sighting,” said NDOW Director Alan Jenne. “Nevada is not a historic habitat for wolves, and we’ve had very few confirmed sightings in the state. Wolves are not known to reside in the state of Nevada, but we know that they may occasionally cross state lines for brief periods.” 

It’s unclear what species of wolf the Nevada pack may be, but they’re likely gray wolves, which are native to the region. 

While Nevada has seen few confirmed wolf sightings in the last century, surrounding states have significant growing gray wolf populations. Idaho’s gray wolf population was estimated at 1,337 wolves in 2022, 37% higher than the original recovery goal for the animals, according to Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game.  

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2023 reported about 200 gray wolves in nearly 25 packs in the state. Oregon state biologists also warned that the gray wolf population may have reached its ecological limit in the eastern third of the state, and that packs would likely spread out to the west and south in greater numbers

As of 2024, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said there are six known packs of gray wolves in the state for a total of 45 adult wolves, juveniles, and pups.

Amaroq Weiss, the senior wolf advocate at the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity, said the pack was fantastic news for the recovery of the gray wolf, which used to range across parts of Nevada, before being wiped out decades ago. 

“All three of those neighboring states can become sources for more wolves to disperse into Nevada,” Weiss said. 

“Wolves are a symbol of the wildness of the West, and Nevada is as wild as it gets. Their return shows why it’s so important to let wolves continue to recover under the protection of the Endangered Species Act,” she continued. 

Young wolves often travel hundreds of miles seeking new territory and resources. It’s possible the wolves were following deer and moose across the landscape, said Weiss.  

The helicopter survey crew, contracted by the Nevada Department of Wildlife, who spotted the possible Nevada wolf pack were on a scheduled moose collaring project when they sighted the three wolves.  

For the past four years, the Nevada Department of Wildlife has collared and tracked moose in northeastern Nevada to better understand why the animals are quickly moving into the state. Wildlife managers say Nevada’s moose population has doubled over the past five years, increasing to a population of more than 100. 

“If moose are newly coming into the state where they haven’t been before, that’s just another remarkable testament of how wildlife don’t just stay in one place, they move. If the state is welcoming moose back, they can certainly welcome wolves back as well,” Weiss said. 

Gray wolves once ranged across all of North America, including the western United States. But decades of government-sponsored predator control programs brought gray wolves to near extinction in the lower 48 States. By the time wolves were protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, only a few hundred remained in northeastern Minnesota, and on Isle Royale, Michigan, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 

“We didn’t lose wolves in this country because of habitat loss — which is what usually happens when species become imperiled — we lost them because we killed them all,” Weiss said. “Every time you see a wolf showing up in a state where it seems like they’re brand new, they’re returning to places they once called home. It’s very uncommon for a wolf to suddenly walk into a place that the species has never been before.” 

Gray wolves were also driven to near extinction in the Western U.S. after settlers overhunted most populations of bison, elk, deer, and moose – all important prey for wolves survival, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 

It’s too early to say whether the pack sighting in northeast Nevada near Merritt Mountain is a prelude to continued wolf presence in the state. Gray wolves are incredibly adaptive to changes in environment, but wolves in the west prefer to inhabit areas with plenty of elk, deer, and moose. 

NDOW assured the public they would work with state and federal agencies to protect public safety, and ensure that “Nevada ecosystems and natural resource industries are not negatively impacted by the presence of wolves in the state.” 

While there is always concern that the presence of wolves may pose a threat to human safety, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service assures wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare in North America, even in Canada and Alaska, where there are consistently large wolf populations. 

Livestock death by wolves is also very rare, according to a 2015 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on cattle deaths. In Idaho – the state with the highest population of wolves in the west – wolf predation on the state’s reported 2.73 million livestock accounted for 0.004% of deaths. Nationwide, predator attacks on cattle accounted for only 2% of all deaths in adults, and 11% in calves. And of those, coyotes accounted for 40% of deaths, unknown predators accounted for about 16%, and dogs accounted for 11%. 

“It’s actually a very, very small amount. But because in this country, we have this history of hating wolves, and eradicating wolves, that history and those feelings still persist,” Weiss said. “There are so many strategies that people know about these days to coexist with wolves, and it’s just a matter of learning and knowing about these techniques.”

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.