Detroit News / AP / May 20, 2004
An endangered species, their population has risen above 360 animals
TRAVERSE CITY - The Upper Peninsula's surging gray wolf population has exceeded 200 for the fifth consecutive year, a milestone that likely will bump the animal from the endangered species list.
Once virtually extinct in Michigan, the wolf is continuing a remarkable comeback that began in 1989 when three of them established a territory in the western Upper Peninsula, the Department of Natural Resources said.
The estimated population rose during the last year from 321 to more than 360, the agency said. DNR biologists produce a yearly census using techniques such as tracking, aerial observations and monitoring of wolves fitted with radio collars.
Keeping the population above 200 for five years in a row means "the population has reached the state recovery goal," said Pet Lederle, supervisor of the DNR's research and technology section.
The wolf's status already has been downgraded from endangered, meaning on the brink of extinction, to threatened, the next level of severity.
The U.S. Forest Service is expected next month to propose removing the wolf from the list, a process that would require hearings. Once it is completed, the DNR would do likewise on the state level, Lederle said.
Once delisted, the wolf population would be overseen by DNR managers.
Killing or otherwise harming wolves would remain illegal, although the DNR might destroy those that repeatedly attack cattle or cause other serious problems.
The agency last year killed four members of a pack in the eastern Upper Peninsula that continually went after livestock, Lederle said.
"As the population increases, the likelihood that we'd have to take that type of measure also increases," he said. "But I still think it would be pretty rare."
Wolves feed primarily on whitetail deer. Some hunters fears wolves will make a significant dent in the Upper Peninsula's deer numbers, which scientists doubt.
If the wolf population rose to 400 and each wolf took 20 deer per year, that would total 8,000. That's only 2 percent of the peninsula's estimated deer population of 400,000, and fewer than the number struck annually by vehicles on U.P. roads, Lederle said.
Yet he acknowledged that while the peninsula might have enough habitat and prey to support 400 to 800 wolves, people might not tolerate that many. The peninsula's social carrying capacity for wolves hasn't been determined, Lederle said.
At some point, the DNR may consider allowing wolf hunts to keep their number within an acceptable limit, he said, emphasizing that no population ceiling has been set.
While wolves live primarily in the southern Upper Peninsula, they were detected in every U.P. county over the last year except Keweenaw, in the far northwest.
No wolves are known to have made their way to the Lower Peninsula, despite occasional reports of them crossing ice bridges in the Straits of Mackinac area, Lederle said.