U.P. biologist Kevin Swanson named new DNR bear, wolf, cougar specialist

By Howard Meyerson

Kevin Swanson is the Michigan DNR's new large-carnivore will be based in the Upper Peninsula. Photo: Michigan DNR.

Kevin Swanson is the Michigan DNR’s new large-carnivore will be based in the Upper Peninsula. Photo: Michigan DNR.

Grand Rapids, Mich. – Kevin Swanson believes his biggest challenge as Michigan’s new large-carnivore specialist is likely to be the debate about wolves, but black bears and cougars aren’t far behind. The Ishpeming native recently began his new duties at the Michigan DNR’s Marquette field office.

“The wolf debate is the biggest challenge. I’ll be representing our biologist’s views, assessing all sides of the debate, and bringing those recommendations to the Natural Resources Commission,” said Swanson, who was named Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist of the Year in 2012. His former post was habitat biologist for the 380,000 acre Shingleton state forest unit.

“There are no big changes ahead for the wolf program plan, but it’s important for people to know that it doesn’t preclude having a wolf hunt,” Swanson said. “Bear issues are also very controversial. The houndsmen and bait-hunting groups don’t see things the same way. I’ll be handling the bear program and plan to bring those differing points of view to the table. We’re in the process of making recommendations for the 2015-16 regulation cycle.”

Swanson, who grew up hunting, and still lives in Ishpeming with his wife and three children, was selected for the post from a field of candidates from around the country. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Northern Michigan University, and master’s degree in forestry from Michigan Technological University. People who know him say he is a likeable guy.

A good people person

“He’s friendly, knowledgeable and very persuasive,” said Craig Albright, the DNR’s Upper Peninsula field operations manager for the Wildlife Division. “He’ll disagree with people and their views, but he does it in a way that people don’t get mad at him. That will serve him well when working with the people involved with bears and wolves. That stuff gets very tense.”

The large carnivore specialist historically has worked out of Lansing, according to Albright. The post was moved to the U.P. in response to comments from hunters who thought it should be geographically closer to the animals being managed.

“The wolves are up here,” Albright said. “A lot of U.P. sportsmen have called for this. Our chief, Russ Mason, took them up on it. We advertised the job as one in Marquette from the get-go. Kevin is a Yooper and he does all this stuff personally. It is a passion in his life and he is a great family man.”

Swanson said the new job is going to be a big change. He called it a “people-person job,” and that intrigued him.

“It’s going to be very different from being a field biologist,” he said. “I won’t be in the woods as much. It’s a job with more social and political aspects.”

How many bears? 

Getting a handle on bear population estimates is one challenge Swanson anticipates. Bear hunters contend that DNR population estimates are too high. Swanson estimates that Michigan has between 1,500 and 2,400 bears in the northern Lower Peninsula, and from 8,000 to 10,000 bears in the U.P.

“The bear hunting organizations, especially the houndsmen, believe they are far lower than we are saying based on their years of experience in the woods,” Swanson said. “They don’t see bears as frequently (as they did) in areas that they hunt.

“We don’t know exactly how many there are. There is always some mystery involved, but we use data that goes back to 1993 and all kinds of input, some of it is anecdotal from hunters and non-hunters, and from hunter effort.”

Cougars are another hot-topic. Swanson said cougars being present in the U.P. has now been confirmed 25 or 26 times, based either on tracks that were found or from images captured on trail-cams. So far, he says, there is no evidence of breeding population. Most, he thinks, are “dispersing males from breeding populations in the Dakotas.”

Swanson can be reached calling 906-228-6561, extension 3057, or by emailing him at swansonk@michigan.gov

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© 2014 Howard Meyerson

Appears in Michigan Outdoor News.

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