Gray wolf

A gray wolf with yellow eyes peers at the viewer from behind a dense thicket of branches and green leaves. A collar with a leather radio transmitter is snugly fitted around the wolf's neck.
Notice the collar and tag in the ear of this wolf?  Voyageurs National Park researchers have an extensive research program that tracks and monitors the wolves within the park and surrounding area.

NPS

 

On This Page Navigation

 
A white wolf with a black scar on its muzzle walks on a snowy lake shore
Wolves are elusive survivors, and almost always keep away from humans (though sometimes they pass through inhabited areas while hunting or checking the boundaries of their territories). This white wolf was seen travelling near the Rainy Lake Visitor Center docks in winter, 2018.

NPS / Grunwald

Introduction

With over 120,000 acres of land, Voyageurs offers abundant forest habitat for the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus). Also called the Timber Wolf, this animal is the dominant predator in Voyageurs and primarily feeds on deer, moose, and beaver. During the winter, wolves live in family packs with approximately four to eight members, often working together to hunt large game. Park researchers are currently studying wolf behavior during the summer, when individual wolves are more likely to hunt on their own.

Where can you view wolves?

A wolf will often hear or smell you first and walk away, but if you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this mammal, keep your distance. Back up slowly, stay quiet, and give the animal space.

While Voyageurs hosts a healthy population of wolves, the chances of seeing them are highest in the winter when they are hunting or moving along the shorelines of the big lakes. Wolves may also be often spotted crossing the park entrance roads.

 
The logo of the Voyageurs Wolf Project depicts a wolf looking to the right, with the tops of pine trees silhouetted its feet

The Voyageurs Wolf Project

The Voyageurs Wolf Project—a collaborative research study between the park and the University of Minnesota—began in 2012, and has since provided researchers with groundbreaking information about wolves' impact on Voyageurs and surrounding areas. The project currently focuses on their predation behavior during the summer, as well as their reproductive ecology.

The project allows researchers to:

  • Determine the number of wolf packs in and near the park, and to chart the approximate location of their territories
  • Estimate the number of individuals in each pack
  • Understand causes of wolf mortality
  • Learn how wolves hunt and ambush prey during the summer.
  • Discover when and why wolves eat fawns, beavers, moose, and other prey.

Voyageurs Wolf Project researchers capture wolves and fit them with GPS or radio collars, allowing biologists to track their movements. If a wolf dies or stops moving for an extended period of time, the collar emits a mortality signal. Biologists use the signal to locate the animal, investigate the possible cause of death (if the wolf has died), and retrieve the collar.

In addition, Wolf Project researchers also maintain trail cameras to capture footage and obtain vivid insights into the summer lives of wolves in and around Voyageurs National Park.

 
Two park researchers kneel behind a tranquilized wolf lying on a tarp. One researcher gently holds the wolf's head up so it can breathe clearly.
Park wolf researchers use tranquilizer in order to safely place tags and collars on wolves. Neither the tags nor the collars harm the wolves' ability to hunt or interact with pack members, and wolves return to their normal behaviors shortly after they are released.

NPS

Population

The wolf population in Voyageurs has stayed relatively constant since the late 1990s. The population most years varies between 30-50 wolves, split into 6 to 9 packs. Each of these pack's territory includes at least a portion of the park, with 2-3 territories generally occupying the remote Kabetogama Peninsula.

Status

Prior to European settlement, wolves were abundant across the northern part of the U.S.By the 1930s, hunting, loss of habitat, and decreasing prey led to a sharp decline in the population. Minnesota retained a small population, unlike the neighboring states of Wisconsin and Michigan. In 1974, wolves were listed as federally endangered. The Minnesota wolf population has grown steadily over the past three decades.The Western Great Lakes wolf population is being considered for removal from the Federal Endangered Species List.

 
A wolf track left behind in dried mud
A wolf track left behind in the mud.

NPS

Characteristics

The gray wolf gets its name from the thick, gray fur coat covering its body. While most wolves are gray, their coats can range in color from reddish to solid black. All of these color variations have been observed in Voyageurs' wolves. On average, adults are 5-6 feet in length, with females weighing 50-85 lbs. and males weighing 70-110 lbs. Their large feet make tracks 4.5" long by 3.5" wide, which are larger than similar looking tracks made by coyotes.

Breeding

Females are ready to breed by age two. However, in the hierarchy of wolves, typically only one dominant female is allowed to breed with the dominant male within the pack. Breeding occurs in February and March, with pups born in April and May. A typical litter includes 4-7 pups, which will remain in the den for the first 6-8 weeks after birth.

 
A couple walks with two leashed dogs down a paved trail bordered by scenic forests.
Keeping your dog leashed and cleaning up your pet's waste helps prevent canine parvovirus and other illnesses from harming wolves and other park wildlife.

NPS

Gray Wolves and the Future

The population and survival of wolves is closely linked to the availability of their prey and protection from illegal poaching. If species like White-Tailed Deer and beaver continue to be abundant in the park, there will likely be a healthy population of wolves as well.

How can you protect wolves?

  • Help your pet to be wildlife-friendly: keep your dog on a leash, walk pets only on approved trails, and always clean up your pet's waste.
    • Domestic dogs can spread canine diseases that are deadly to wolves, including canine parvovirus and canine distemper.
  • If a wolf appears to show unusual behavior, such as a lack of fear of humans, please report your sighting to park staff.
 

Last updated: January 22, 2020

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Voyageurs National Park Headquarters
360 Hwy 11 East

International Falls, MN 56649

Phone:

(218) 283-6600

Contact Us