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Suspected sighting of wolf packs in NV turns out to be coyotes • Nevada Current

Wildlife managers in Nevada confirmed Monday that a possible sighting of a wolf pack months earlier north of Elko was in fact a pack of coyotes.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife reported the possible sighting of wolf packs in March, prompting state biologists to collect DNA from two nearby fecal and hair samples to confirm whether the sighted pack were indeed wolves.

However, results from two independent genetic labs completed this month showed that the three suspected wolves spotted at Merritt Mountain were almost certainly coyotes.

Analysis of the hair, stool and urine samples collected along the suspected wolf tracks in the snow revealed with 99.9% certainty that the samples came from coyotes, according to NDOW.

“Although initial sightings indicated that wolves may be present in the area, DNA results from the samples collected indicated that these animals were in fact coyotes,” NDOW Director Alan Jenne said in a statement.

“We appreciate the dedication of our biologists assisting laboratory staff and the public’s cooperation during this process, and we will continue to monitor the area for evidence of wolf presence,” he continued.

The possible wolf sighting was announced after a helicopter crew conducting an aerial moose survey spotted three suspected wolves traveling together. State biologists who conducted ground surveys immediately after the sighting believed the new tracks in the snow were consistent with wolves at the time.

The sighting could have been of great significance to Nevada, which has not confirmed a wolf pack in the state in more than a century. In 2016, a single gray wolf was documented in Nevada west of the Black Rock Desert. Before then, the last confirmed sighting of a wolf in Nevada was in 1922, near Gold Creek in Elko County.

Jenne said he understood “the significance of such sightings and the importance of accurate identification.”

“NDOW will continue to work closely with state and federal agencies to uphold our mission to protect Nevada’s ecosystems and wildlife, while transparency also remains a top priority in all our communications with the public,” said Jenne.

Although Nevada has seen few confirmed wolf sightings over the past century, surrounding states have significantly growing gray wolf populations. Idaho’s gray wolf population was estimated at 1,337 wolves in 2022, 37% more than the original recovery goal for the animals, according to Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported about 200 gray wolves in nearly 25 packs in the state in 2023. Oregon state biologists also warned that the gray wolf population in the eastern third of the state may have reached its ecological limit, and that packs are likely spread in greater numbers to the west and south.

As of 2024, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said there are six known packs of gray wolves in the state, for a total of 45 adults, juveniles and pups.

Gray wolves once ranged throughout North America, including the western United States. But decades of government-sponsored predator control programs have driven gray wolves to near-extinction in the lower 48 states. By the time wolves were protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, only a few hundred remained in northeastern Minnesota and Isle Royale, Michigan, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Amaroq Weiss, the senior wolf advocate at the conservation group Center for Biological Diversity, said it’s important to understand that wolves are widespread animals that often travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory and resources, and can sometimes invade Nevada. Weiss also noted that it is not uncommon for federally protected wolves to be mistaken for coyotes and killed.

“Scattered wolves are all too often shot and killed by people who mistakenly think what they are shooting is a huge coyote, so it is good to keep the public informed that there are wolves – which are federally protected – in the area could be,” Weiss said.