By Howard Meyerson
GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. – One or more wolf packs now live in every Upper Peninsula county, having spread from west to east over the past 20 years. Most –for now – are concentrated in Western counties, according to state wildlife officials.
“More live in the Western U.P. than East, but it’s not a huge difference,” said Kevin Swanson, the statewide wolf and bear program coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “There is at least one pack in every county now, and many more in some.”
In all, there are 125 packs, approximately 636 wolves, according to data from the agency’s last winter wolf survey in 2013/2014. The survey was not conducted last winter because of the “controversy over them and because they were listed again as an endangered species,” Swanson said.
“We are looking to do a winter survey to see how many there are,” he said. “We haven’t seen (U.P.) deer density this low in decades, probably not since the early 1980s. We’re wondering what we will see because deer are their main prey. The winter started out very badly last year, but we had an early break up and deer were able to get away. I’ve seen more fawns this year. It looks like we have had good fawn production.”
Two to five wolves per pack
Wolves travel in packs, but pack sizes vary. Survey data indicates that 23 packs were roaming pairs. Other packs were larger, averaging five wolves. Wolf territories also varied widely, from 5 square-miles to 291 square miles, averaging 45 square miles. Wolf territories have shrunk as the population has grown, Swanson noted.
“We had exponential growth from the 1990s to early 2000s: 68 packs in 2003 and 125 packs in 2013 and 2014,” Swanson said, adding that wolf reproduction is assumed to be good. The next survey will tell more.
Livestock depredation continues to occur. Eleven incidents have been recorded so far in 2015. Ten cows have been killed, along with one pig. Dogs have been spared, but it is still early in the season.
“Last year (2014) we had 43 total depredation incidents – 26 cattle and 17 dogs,” Swanson said. “The vast majority (of dogs killed) were hunting dogs. Most were bear hounds, but some were beagles out hunting snowshoe hare. The dogs were all far from the hunter or owner when they were attacked and killed.”
Attacks on dogs typically occur in mid-to-late summer or fall once the dog training season opens in early July, Swanson explained.
No wolf presence has yet been confirmed in Lower Peninsula, according to Swanson. There are signs, but no hard-evidence.
“We haven’t confirmed any since 2008 when one was confirmed,” Swanson said. “We’ve seen tracks that are wolf-like, but their presence has not been confirmed. I’d guess we might have a few (in the northern Lower Peninsula, but they are hard to detect.”
© 2015 Howard Meyerson
Appears in Michigan Outdoor News.