YELLOWSTONE WOLVES

A tour bus stops to let a wolf cross the road in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Two loggers believe they may have spotted a black wolf near Dalton Lake in the Black Hills.

Associated Press file photo

Dave Whitaker was temporarily stunned when he saw what looked like a black wolf.

"I wasn't sure what to go to first, my phone to take a picture, or my gun," he said. "I would have reached for my phone, but it moved too fast."

The animal appeared Monday about 25 yards from Whitaker and another logger who were working about 30 miles northwest of Rapid City near Dalton Lake.

A state wildlife official said, however, that he has his doubts that the men saw a wolf.

"I'm not going to say it's impossible. It's unlikely," said Mike Kintigh, a Rapid City regional supervisor with South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks.

Whitaker said, however, that the animal was too large to be a coyote. It also was completely black and weighed between 100 to 125 pounds, he said.

In the 25 years he has been working in the woods, he said, he has not seen anything like it.

Whitaker said the tracks were still visible when he went back near the site, but he has not seen it again since Monday.

"As soon as it realized we were there, it was tail down, head up. It was moving," he said.

According to published reports, Whitaker is not the only one who believes he may have seen a wolf recently in the Black Hills. At least three Spearfish residents thought they saw wolves near their homes this week and in December, according to the Associated Press.

Police and wildlife officials have not been able to confirm any of the sightings.

In cases where there is a possible wolf sighting in a remote area, Kintigh said a Game, Fish & Parks employee will go out with an audio recording of a wolf and see if they get a response.

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But it is impossible to know for sure without DNA testing from an animal, he said.

In the past, the only wolves his department has recovered to his knowledge have been dead, he said.

Because wolves are considered a federal endangered species in South Dakota, if one was caught in the Black Hills, Kintigh said the plan would be to relocate it either to the Yellowstone Basin or Minnesota.

The closest populations of breeding wolves are in west central Wyoming and northwestern Minnesota, said Dave Mech, a senior research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Wolves can travel 600 miles or more, making it possible one could end up in the Black Hills.

"That wouldn't be unusual," Mech said.

It is conceivable that from a distance, a dog or coyote could be mistaken for a wolf, he said. Black coyotes are extremely rare, though black wolves are not rare at all, especially in parts of Wyoming and Montana, he said.

Contact Meredith Colias at 394-8417 or meredith.colias@rapidcityjournal.com.

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