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Rich Staffen
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Gray Wolf (Canis lupus)



Gray wolf (Canis lupus), also referred to as timber wolf, was removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list in January 2012, but was re-listed in December 2014. It is a Wisconsin Special Concern species. Gray wolves are social animals, living in a family group, or pack. Pack sizes in Wisconsin average 2-6 individuals, with a few packs as large as 10-12 animals. A territory represents the geographic extent that a particular wolf pack will utilize in search of food and shelter. A wolf pack's territory may cover 20-80 square miles.

State status

Status and Natural Heritage Inventory documented occurrences in Wisconsin

The table below provides information about the protected status - both state and federal - and the rank (S and G Ranks) for Gray Wolf (Canis lupus). See the Working List Key for more information about abbreviations. Counties shaded blue have documented occurrences for this species in the Wisconsin Natural Heritage Inventory database. The map is provided as a general reference of where this species has been found to date and is not meant as a range map.

Documented locations of Canis lupus in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.

Summary Information
State StatusSC/H
Federal Status in WisconsinLE
State RankS4
Global RankG4G5
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

Synonyms: Timber wolf

Identification: Gray wolves are the largest wild member of the dog family, and in Wisconsin adult males averaging about 80 pounds and adult females averaging about 70 pounds. Gray wolves in Wisconsin contain some genes from the smaller eastern Canadian wolves (Canis lycaon), and are thus somewhat smaller than the gray wolves from the western US or northern Canada. Gray wolves have a massive head and neck important in killing prey, which results in larger fore feet than hind feet. Body weight, height, and foot prints are important distinguishing characteristics when comparing gray wolves to other wild and domestic canids (shown in detail at

Habitat: When wolves returned to the state in the mid 1970s, they were considered wilderness species for which little habitat existed in Wisconsin. We have since found that wolves are much more adaptable than originally suspected. Most areas of large contiguous forest in northern and central Wisconsin appear suitable for wolves, although they do more readily select the most remote areas on the landscape for establishing territories and raising pups. Wolf packs select areas with a high percentage of forest and other wildlands (genereally > 90% wildlands), low densities of roads, low human densities, and few farms. Wolves seem to avoid urban areas, lakes with extensive developement, and other developed landscapes. Wolf packs generally remain in heavily forested areas, but wolves that disperse and become loners more readily travel through more developed and open landscapes. Some wolf pups raised near developed areas have become more tolerant of developed landscapes.

Den and rendezvous sites represent specific locations used for breeding and other pack activities; they may be some of the most critical portions of wolf habitat in the Great Lakes region. Habitat at den site locations can vary, but they most commonly occur in dense forest (conifer or mixed conifer/hardwoods) or shrub cover near open water (usually within 100 to 200 m), and usually a mile or more from the nearest road. Rendezvous sites are the home sites or activity sites used by wolves after the denning period and prior to the nomadic hunting period of fall and winter. Summer rendezvous sites are used by pups and other pack members from mid June through late summer, and are generally in open areas of grass or sedge adjacent to wetlands. Rendezvous sites may include beaver meadows near ponds, forest openings, and two-track logging roads and trails, and are characterized by extensive matted vegetation, numerous trails, and beds usually at the forest edge. In winter, wolf packs regularly visit all the coniferous wetlands in their territories that serve as deer wintering areas.

Diet: Timber wolves are carnivores feeding on other animals. A study in the early 1980's showed that the diet of Wisconsin wolves was comprised of 55% white-tailed deer, 16% beavers, 10% snowshoe hares and 19% mice, squirrels, muskrats and other small mammals.

Inventory, Monitoring and Research Needs: Since 1995, the Wisconsin DNR has had a volunteer tracking program of people who help track wolves in the state. Opportunity to learn about and teach others about wolves are available through the Gray Wolf Alliance in Ashland and the Timber Wolf information Network in Waupaca. For more information see the DNR's Volunteer Tracking Program pages



Gray Wolf  [Photo #7626]

Vast forests and wetlands, low human population and road densities, and extensive public lands are among the factors that have permitted recolonization of the Central Sand Plains by the gray wolf.

Photo © Gary Kramer.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #7624]

Gray Wolf.

Photo © John and Karen Hollingsworth.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #7627]

Photo © Keith Morehouse.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #7625]

Gray Wolf.

Photo © Tracy Brooks.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #9505]

Wolf Kill Site.

Photo by Rich Staffen, WDNR.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #9506]

Wolf Bed.

Photo by Rich Staffen, WDNR.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #9507]

Wolf Kill Site.

Photo by Rich Staffen, WDNR.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #22957]

Gray Wolf

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #22958]

Gray Wolf

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #22959]

Gray Wolf

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #22960]

Gray Wolf

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Gray Wolf  [Photo #22961]

Gray Wolf

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Wildlife Action Plan

Note: the information presented here comes from the 2005 Wisconsin Wildlife Action Plan. The Wildlife Action Plan is currently under revision, so this page will be updated with new information before the end of 2015.

Native community (habitat) associations

The table below lists the natural communities that are associated with Gray Wolf. Only natural communities for which Gray Wolf is "significantly" (score=3) or "moderately" (score=2) associated are shown. Please see the Wildlife Action Plan to learn how this information was developed.

Ecological landscape associations

The table below lists the ecological landscape association scores for Gray Wolf. The scores correspond to the map (3=High, 2=Moderate, 1=Low, 0=None). For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

This map shows the probability of Gray Wolf occurring in each of Wisconsin's Ecological Landscapes.  Actual scores can be found in the table to the left.

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Landscape-Community combinations of highest ecological priority*

Ecological priorities are the combinations of natural communities and ecological landscapes that provide Wisconsin's best opportunities to conserve important habitats for a given Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The 10 highest scoring combinations are considered ecological priorities and are listed below. More than 10 combinations are listed if multiple combinations tied for 10th place. For more information, please see the Wildlife Action Plan.

* Ecological priority score is a relative measure that is not meant for comparison between species. This score does not consider socio-economical factors that may dictate protection and/or management priorities differently than those determined solely by ecological analysis. Further, a low ecological priority score does not imply that management or preservation should not occur on a site if there are important reasons for doing so locally.

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Conservation actions

  • Accurate population counts via radio collaring along with snow tracking and summer howling surveys are needed to determine if wolves are attaining management goals in Wisconsin.
  • Aggressive control needs to be maintained on ungulate diseases such as CWD or TB that could devastate deer and elk populations, and cause major reductions in wolf numbers, or cause drastic increase in livestock depredation by wolves.
  • Continuing public education about wolves is needed to promote a greater acceptance of wolves and reduce unfounded fears and myths. Specific information is needed on ways to live with wolves, needs for wolf control activity, and a better understanding of t
  • Develop a proactive program to minimize wolf/livestock conflicts. Human acceptance of wolves is essential to maintenance of the species on the landscape, which relies upon some level of livestock owner tolerance.
  • Health monitoring is needed to continue to assess the health of the population, including impacts on the population from disease, parasites, and other important sources of mortality.
  • In the context of ensuring public acceptance, lethal control of wolves to minimize depredation losses could be considered a legitimate conservation action.
  • Long-term research on wolf ecology, population growth, and depredation concerns in central Wisconsin is needed.
  • Models are needed that 1) predict potential den and rendezvous sites within suitable wolf habitat so these sensitive areas can be protected from human disturbance, 2) estimate the state wolf population using existing survey and population data and identif
  • Possession of wolf/dog hybrids needs to be regulated due to their potential negative impact on wild, free ranging wolves.
  • Protection of suitable forested habitat linkages and corridors for wolf dispersal to and from Minnesota and Michigan, as well as within Wisconsin is needed to maintain genetic diversity in wolf populations.
  • Re-measurement of public attitudes towards wolves and recovery in the state is needed to define reasonable wolf population goals and acceptable wolf habitat.
  • Research is needed to more effectively manage wolf populations in Wisconsin, including developing reliable and economical wolf census techniques to accurately document numbers and distribution, identifying wolf travel corridors, identifying factors causin
  • Support of zoning and Smart Growth efforts are needed in forested areas to maintain forest cover and reduce developments detrimental to wolves and other forest wildlife.
  • Wolf habitat maintenance is needed in northern and central Wisconsin management areas on suitable lands (especially county forests, national forests, and private industrial forests) through management of public motorized access, protection of den and rend

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Threats and issues

  • Human-caused mortality from illegal shooting, trapping, and vehicle collisions may be major limiting factors in portions of the wolf's range.
  • Mortality from a variety of diseases including canine parvovirus, infectious canine hepatitis, canine distemper virus, heartworm, and Blastomycosis are important mortality factors that may limit the wolf population.
  • Sarcoptic mange is an important health concern and cause of mortality in Wisconsin wolf populations, along with other parasites including protozoans, intestinal worms, ticks, mites, lice, and heartworm.
  • Spread of Chronic Wasting Disease in deer and elk could reduce future numbers of these prey species, or may require local reductions of these cervids which would affect abundance of wolves.
  • Habitat fragmentation and human development could negatively affect wolf population trends in Wisconsin, and reduce area of suitable habitat which may reduce the potential carrying capacity of wolves in the future.
  • Road densities reflecting motorized access and the level of human-use on such access are key factors in establishing and maintaining wolf populations.
  • Future human developments of highway, residential, commercial, and industrial areas may reduce wolves' ability to disperse across the landscape and could cause isolation of portions of the wolf population, leading to genetic and stochastic population problems.
  • Interbreeding of wolf/dog hybrids and wild wolves may dilute the gene pool with the instincts and behaviors of domestic dogs, potentially reducing long term viability and increasing rates of livestock depredation.
  • Agricultural expansion of livestock and hobby farms into forest areas of central and northern Wisconsin may increase conflicts with wolves and humans, and creates needs for more intense lethal controls on wolves.

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Last revised: Tuesday, August 11, 2015