Government killing of 8 wolves suggests Upper Peninsula may be overcrowded with wolves

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula gray wolf population is increasingly showing up in towns and residential areas.

By Howard Meyerson

A couple of weeks ago, I read with some dismay about eight wolves shot and killed in and around Ironwood, a western Upper Peninsula town.

Ironwood is a gateway community, a popular tourist town — population 5,380 — on the Wisconsin border.

The town is known for its historic iron mines and ski jumping. It has the distinction of having built one of the first ski-flying hills in North America and has a 188-inch average snowfall.

But “Welcome to Michigan. We Got Wolves” is a tourist banner you probably will never see there. Many of the residents are not fond of wolves — at least not when they hang out on the driveway.

The wolves in question had filtered into town doing what wolves do. They came looking for something to eat, to establish territory. State officials suspect they followed deer into town.

The animals belonged to two wolf packs, one to the north and another to the southeast of town. That determination was made by the USDA Wildlife Services staffer who tracked them. State wildlife managers contracted with the federal program to handle the problem.

And handle it they did: wolf by wolf, sometimes in town, sometimes not.

“It wasn’t the first time,” said Brian Roell, a wolf specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.” This kind of stuff has been done before.”

By that, he means 74 wolves have been exterminated in Michigan to date. Twenty-seven were because of human safety concerns; another 47 because of livestock depredation concerns.

“These wolves are looking for unoccupied territory,” Roell said. “They are filling in the nooks and crannies. What are left are fringe areas, which happen to be in towns.”

That may come as a surprise to those who think the Upper Peninsula offers vast, unending topography for wolves. Roell suggests otherwise: it now is getting crowded for Canis lupus.

A 2011 wolf population survey found 687 wolves inhabit the Upper Peninsula. Roell thinks the population may be leveling off. The 2012 wolf survey wasn’t conducted due to a lack of money. But Wisconsin’s wolf population is leveling off and the two populations track pretty close together, Roell said.

Roell said nonlethal means are always tried first, but relocating wolves no longer is practical.

“The big question is where you put them,” Roell said. “We don’t have any unoccupied suitable habitat in the UP.  We tried moving wolves when we had fewer, but they didn’t stay there. They went right back to where they were a problem.

“If you put a wolf in another wolf’s habitat, the resident pack will probably kill it.

“We are trying to break the cycle of parents teaching young ones that the city of Ironwood is a place to forage for food. We have a lot of deer in the city and a lot of people feeding deer, which doesn’t help.”

I can’t help but feel for the Ironwood residents, who I know have been concerned about wolves for a while. In 1997 when the state wolf recovery plan was penned, bringing the gray wolf back seemed a noble idea. It was listed as endangered and was emblematic of all things wilderness and wild.

The recovery goal, of course, was only 100 gray wolves in Wisconsin and Michigan combined. Wolf restoration was a good idea, but equally true, especially with wolves, is you can have too much of a good thing.

Wolf kills by the numbers

• 2004 — One wolf is killed in Ontonagon County.

• 2005 — Four wolves are killed: three at a Houghton County residence after attempting to kill a dog and showing no fear of its owner; a fourth killed in Gogebic County.

• 2007 — Five wolves are killed: four in Iron County; a fifth killed at a home in Schoolcraft County.

• 2008 — One wolf-hybrid is killed in Keweenaw County.

• 2009 — A quiet year.

• 2010 — Five wolves are killed in Gogebic County: each is found in residential areas, and all are from the same pack.

• 2011 — Four wolves are killed in Ironwood.

• 2012 — Eight wolves are killed in Ironwood.

© 2012 All rights reserved.

This story appeared on MLive Outdoors,

About Howard Meyerson

After more than 30 years in the outdoor writing business, you would think I'd know better.
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