SPEARFISH — Have wolves been spotted in Spearfish? Several residents say yes, but police and wildlife officials say no.
On Monday Spearfish resident Pete McNamee called the Spearfish Police Department to report a wolf sighting near Windmill Drive shortly after 11 a.m.
McNamee said he saw the “greyish-brown” animals about 100 yards away while he was looking through binoculars.
Curt Jacobs, the assistant police chief for the department said the call was unsubstantiated but that dog or coyote tracks were located.
“They looked much thicker and sturdier than a coyote,” McNamee said of the animals he saw. “I’m not an expert but I think they were much thicker than coyotes.”
Mary and Jack Sty, who live on Tranquility Lane, near McNamee’s sighting, believe they saw wolves near their home in December.
Mary said she and her husband saw three animals — one larger animal and two smaller that were “scrounging around.”
Jack thought the animals were deer at first because of their size.
“Then I saw the tail,” he said.
Although he was only 30 to 40 yards away he looked at them from his house with a scope on a rifle.
“It was just unquestionable that they were wolves,” he said.
“I am 100 percent sure they were wolves,” he added. “I’ve seen wolves up in Minnesota. I’ve seen black and gray wolves out West.”
“The length of the legs on these wolves were longer than coyotes,” he added. “The tracks were, I’d say about two-and-a-half times larger than coyotes, their faces and ears were typical of wolves. … Their mannerisms were different too. Coyotes will take off running when you open the door to a truck. These guys just walked off and looked back.”
The day after they first saw the animals Mary took their dog for a walk along Tranquility Lane and Paramont Drive.
“There was a deer carcass that was really cleaned up and it wasn’t there the day before,” she said.
Both Stys said they didn’t think coyotes could pick the meat clean from the carcass that fast.
Jack later saw the tracks from the deer kill site and reported them to be about four inches long as opposed to coyotes that are about 2.5 inches long.
“My belief is that they are passing through from Minnesota or maybe Yellowstone and they stick around for a little bit feeding,” Jack said. He added there are hundreds of rabbits in his neighborhood and surrounding area.
“They were beautiful animals,” he said.
Mona Mattick, of Spearfish, also saw the animals.
“They were big, really big,” Mattick said. “They didn’t look like a coyote and they didn’t look like a mountain lion.” She also said she heard the animals howling.
Mattick lives near the mouth of Spearfish Canyon and said last year her neighbor told her he saw two wolves run through her backyard.
Mike Apland, a conservation officer with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, said he did not investigate Monday’s sighting, but said it is likely a case of mistaken identity.
“There have been plenty of sightings of mountain lions that turn up to be orange tabby cats,” Apland said.
However few and far between confirmed sightings, wolves do occasionally roam through the state.
A wolf was killed approximately 10 years ago by a lethal trap set for coyotes in Harding County. DNA testing determined that it traveled from the Minnesota population.
On March 27, 2006, a wolf was killed on Interstate 90 adjacent to the Black Hills National Cemetery. Testing proved that it was related to the wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and 1996.
In February 2012 a wolf was shot near Custer in a case of mistaken identity. It was determined to originate from the Great Lakes population of wolves that includes Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. In May 2012 a wolf was hit by a vehicle near Pine Ridge. Genetic studies showed that it originated from the Yellowstone area.
“Over the last 15 to 20 years we’ve had six to eight sightings and a handful of unconfirmed sightings,” Emmett Keyser, the assistant director of the Division of Wildlife for the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks said in 2013. “Much like with mountain lions, it is primarily young males that go on a walkabout across the country seeking new territory.”
Keyser said there is not suitable habitat for the large predator in the state.
“Not with the presence of people in the Black Hills, the livestock and pets and the huge potential for conflict,” Keyser said. “While there may be some limited habitat, wolves need huge territories with high populations of large, big game animals.”
John Kanta, the regional wildlife manager with the GF&P, said there is no documentation of a resident wolf population although some wander through. The closest population he knows of is in the Bighorn Mountains in Wyoming.
Garrick Dutcher, the program director for Living With Wolves, an Idaho-based pro-wolf organization said wolves typically shy away from areas of human activity. However there have been documented cases in Iron Wood, Mich., where the population of wolves became so saturated, that wolves began to spend more time around people.
“Their natural instinct is to not be spotted,” Dutcher said. “Marginal, fringe habitat is primarily filled by coyotes.”
Bob Speirs, of rural Spearfish, said he saw two wolves cross a trail in front of him about a decade ago near Crow Peak.
“I thought the first one was a calf elk at first,” Speirs said. “Then it turned and looked right at me.” A second but smaller wolf crossed the trail. It was black and had a white belly.
Speirs has also heard wolves howl in the Northern Hills and has heard reports of wolves passing through the area, last year in Sand Creek, Wyo. and the year before, the latter was supposedly killed near Hammond, Mont.
But Speirs stops short of saying wolves live in the Black Hills.
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