LINCOLN — Over the counter at the Uehling Gas N Go convenience store, owner Jeff Cornett said he’d heard talk about someone possibly shooting a rare-for-Nebraska gray wolf north of town a couple of months ago.
He passed it off as a tall tale, sort of like how fishermen exaggerate the size of a recent catch.
“I just thought it was a big coyote,” Cornett said Wednesday. “I hear a lot of fishing stories, too.”
But on Wednesday, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission confirmed that a large canine killed on Jan. 28 by coyote hunters near the village, about 21 miles north of Fremont, was indeed a gray wolf.
The female, according to genetic testing, was linked to packs of wolves found in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. It was only the third gray wolf confirmed found in Nebraska since 2002, and follows confirmation that an 81-pound male was shot by a rancher south of Bassett in November.
The growth in wolf populations in the Upper Great Lakes in recent years is making it more likely that a young wolf might stray into nearby states like Nebraska, a state wildlife biologist said.
“Wolves can disperse great distances from their nearest populations in the northern Rocky Mountains or Upper Great Lakes. While we don’t have any evidence of resident wolves or reproduction in Nebraska, we can expect young wolves in search of new territory to cover long distances and make it to Nebraska from time to time,” said Sam Wilson, Game and Parks furbearer and carnivore program manager.
In 2002, a wolf was confirmed shot near Spalding, in central Nebraska. It was also genetically linked to the Great Lake wolves. Prior to that, no wolves had been confirmed in the state since 1913.
The Uehling wolf was legally shot, according to the game commission.
In late October, the Trump administration announced that gray wolves were being delisted as a federal endangered species, effective Jan. 4, except for a small population of Mexican gray wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.
The January delisting of wolves means that it’s now legal to shoot wolves in Nebraska year-round. The delisting has been challenged by some wildlife groups.
It’s the latest salvo in long-running “wolf wars” over protection vs. control measures involving the large canines, which can weigh 70 to 115 pounds. Wolves are much larger than coyotes, which are common in Nebraska.
A handful of states have regulated wolf hunts, including Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. Controversy was sparked earlier this year after Wisconsin allowed a hunt.
For more information about wolves, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/graywolf.