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For information on Wisconsin's rare animals, contact:
Rich Staffen
Conservation Biologist

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 occurrences of this species meet NHI data standards and is not meant as a comprehensive map of all observations.

Note: Species recently added to the NHI Working List may temporarily have blank occurrence maps.

Documented locations of Canis lupus in the Natural Heritage Inventory Database as of July 2015.
Summary Information
State StatusSC/FL
Federal Status in WisconsinLE
State RankS4
Global RankG5
Tracked by NHIY

Species guidance

Screening Guidance: The NHI Screening Guidance for Gray Wolf [PDF] document includes screening and avoidance guidance that can be used when conducting an ER Review.

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

After an absence of several decades the gray wolf has recolonized parts of northern and central Wisconsin.

Photo © Gary Kramer.

Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf.

Photo © John and Karen Hollingsworth.

Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf.

Photo © Tracy Brooks.

Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Gray Wolf

Gray Wolf

Photo © A.B. Sheldon.

Last revised: Monday, November 18, 2019