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Timberwolf shot in Olmsted County; DNR explains roaming

A southeastern Minnesota coyote hunter discovered last month that the north woods aren't the only place to find a wolf in Minnesota.

The man saw what he thought was a coyote about 250 yards away while hunting near the Whitewater Wildlife Management Area in Olmsted County.

He made the shot but discovered he had taken a gray wolf - commonly referred to as a timber wolf - instead of a coyote, and reported the incident to a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources conservation officer.

The officer issued only a written warning because the hunter reported the incident, was forthcoming during the investigation and the animal was mistakenly taken well outside Minnesota's established wolf range.

"Typically, the killing of a wolf is a gross misdemeanor because it is a protected wild animal for which there is no hunting season," said DNR Enforcement Director Col. Mike Hamm. "Under different circumstances, the action could have led to a conviction, stiff fine, jail time and $2,000 restitution."

It is illegal, he said, to shoot a wolf except in defense of human life and, under certain circumstances, to protect livestock or pets.

Dan Stark, DNR wolf management specialist, said last month's incident is a reminder that wolves, while largely located in forested areas of central and northern Minnesota, do find their way to other parts of the state.

"We all need to know that young wolves sometimes roam hundreds of miles outside their normal range in search of a mate to establish a pack," said Stark. "There is a known population of wolves in central Wisconsin. That's just 50 miles from southeastern Minnesota, a short distance for a wolf to travel."

Stark said Minnesota's wolf management plan, which was approved by the DNR in 2001 and implemented in March of 2007, following removal from the federal endangered species list, aims to ensure the long-term survival of the wolf while resolving conflicts between wolves and humans.

"The wolf's presence enhances Minnesota's rich natural heritage," he said. "But people need to be aware that encounters may occur even in areas where wolf presence is rare."

Minnesota is home to about 3,000 wolves based on a 2003-04 survey, Stark said. A new population estimate will be released later this year.