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    OMAHA, Nebraska (Fremont Tribune) -- The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission confirmed the third instance in 20 years of a gray wolf’s presence in the state of Nebraska Wednesday.

The commission received a report of a large female canine that was legally shot by coyote hunters near Uehling, which is about 20 miles north of Fremont, on Jan. 28.

Sam Wilson, Game and Parks Furbearer and Carnivore program manager, said a sample of the canine’s DNA was sent to a genetics lab to distinguish its origin.

“When we have an animal that we suspect may be a wild wolf in Nebraska, whenever it’s possible to get a genetic sample from the animal, we do that,” he said. “And we use the genetic sample to determine whether or not the animal is indeed a wild wolf, as opposed to a wolf-dog hybrid, for instance.”

According to Wilson, the genetic testing showed that the wolf originated from a population of wolves native to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.

“It’s fairly rare for them to make it all the way to Nebraska,” he said. “Many wolves are dispersing out of these populations in the Upper Great Lakes and northern Rockies, but often they’re going into Canada or other states that are closer.”

Also known as timber wolves, gray wolves live in packs that can range from two to 15 wolves, but mostly average from four to nine. As wolves mature, they either remain with their pack or leave for new territory.

Although gray wolves have historically covered two-thirds of the United States, hunting dating back to as early as the 17th century brought their numbers down.

Lately, conservation efforts have resulted in a comeback for gray wolves, which are the largest living wild canine species.

In December 2002, a wolf was shot by a coyote hunter near Spalding and was confirmed the next May. The instance was Nebraska’s first wolf sighting in 90 years.

More recently, another wolf was shot by a rancher near Bassett in November 2020. The animal was identified as a wolf last March.

With the three modern-day cases, Wilson said all three were linked to the upper Great Lakes wolf population.

“Young wolves, when they reach sexual maturity, it’s common for them to disperse and try to find new territories of their own,” he said. “And that’s useful for making sure genetics aren’t isolated in a population, so there are biological reasons for it.”

Although this wolf sighting is the second to occur in less than a year, Wilson said the close proximity of cases isn’t indicative of anything, as the commission is aware of wolves traveling long distances to reach Nebraska.

“So we’re not surprised that it’s happened again,” he said. “In fact, we can expect for a few to reach Nebraska from time to time going into the future as long as there are populations in those two areas.”

Wilson encouraged anyone in Nebraska who sees a wolf to call their nearest Game and Parks Commission office.

“We would request that anybody who does observe a gray wolf or gets a trail camera picture of a gray wolf or has a roadkill wolf or a carcass of some sort to contact the Game and Parks Commission,” he said. “We’re just interested in documenting these animals and can run genetic tests to be certain of the species and determine the origins.”

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