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Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) Occurrences in the Dakotas


Study Area


The Dakotas are characterized by a sparse human population, predominately flat to rolling topography, dry climate with hot summers and cold winters, and a landscape that is 51% cropland, 40% rangeland (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1988) and only about 4% woodland (see Methods). Excluding the Black Hills in extreme southwestern South Dakota, the Dakotas are <1% forested. There are about 5,080,000 domestic cattle and 555,000 (1.5/km2) wild ungulates (J. McKenzie, pers. comm.; K. McPhillips, pers. comm.) in the Dakotas. Most cropland is in the eastern half of the region and most rangeland in the western half. Human density averages 3.7/km2 (U.S. Bureau of Census, 1988) and road density 0.72 km/km2 (North Dakota Dept. of Transportation, pers. comm.; South Dakota Dept. of Transportation, pers. comm.; see Methods). Both road and human density are higher in the eastern half of the area.

The distance from the Dakotas to the closest known wolf packs is approximately 28 km, i.e., from the northeastern corner of North Dakota to northwestern Minnesota (Fuller et al., 1992) (Figure 1). The land between these two points is primarily cropland. The sizeable wolf population in Minnesota and its proximity seems to hold the greatest potential for emigration to the Dakotas.

Manitoba has a small disjunct population of wolves (<10) in the Spruce Woods Reserve approximately 66 km from the North Dakota border and another population (50-75 wolves) about 160 km from the North Dakota border in Riding Mountain Provincial Park (Stardom, 1983; D. Pastuck, pers. comm.). The continuous population of Manitoba wolves extends into the extreme southeastern corner of the province where it is within 100 km of North Dakota. Wolf populations in Manitoba appear to have remained stable (Stardom, 1983) or possibly increased in recent years (D. Pastuck, pers. comm.).

The nearest wolf population in Saskatchewan is 340 km from the North Dakota border. The land between the Saskatchewan wolf distribution and North Dakota is primarily agrarian, with little likelihood of traverse by wolves (R. Seguin, pers. comm.).

The Montana wolf population consists of < 50 wolves in the mountainous western region of the state and is increasing (Pletscher et al., 1991; Ream et al., 1991). Distance from the nearest known wolf pack to the Dakotas is approximately 650 km.


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