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U.P. wolf population at ‘carrying capacity’; Michigan DNR advocates for delisting species

FILE - This Sept. 26, 2018, photo provided by the National Park Service shows a 4-year-old female gray wolf emerging from her cage as she is released at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. Researchers who were forced to cut an annual survey of wildlife on the remote Lake Superior island short this winter due to unusually warm weather announced Tuesday, April 30, 2024, that the data they were able to gather shows the island's wolf population is stable. (National Park Service via AP, File)
AP
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National Park Service
FILE - This Sept. 26, 2018, photo provided by the National Park Service shows a 4-year-old female gray wolf emerging from her cage as she is released at Isle Royale National Park in Michigan. Researchers who were forced to cut an annual survey of wildlife on the remote Lake Superior island short this winter due to unusually warm weather announced Tuesday, April 30, 2024, that the data they were able to gather shows the island's wolf population is stable. (National Park Service via AP, File)

The wolf population in the Upper Peninsula has reached the limit of what the habitat can support, according to the Michigan DNR.

That’s one conclusion of an overwinter survey that found a minimum of 762 wolves living in the U.P.

The number is the highest population estimate since 2012.

However, it’s within a range that has been consistent for the last 14 years.

At the same time, it’s almost certainly an undercount of the true wolf population.

“We’re counting wolves when they’re at their lowest point in their population cycle. Come spring, with pups born and those kind of things, that population is going to jump up. It’s going to reach its high point around July or August. Then, you’re going to start to lose animals. Then, back to mid-winter when you’re at your lowest point again,” said DNR large carnivore specialist Brian Roell.

To reach the estimate, he DNR uses wolf tracks in the snow.

“It is a track survey, so it’s both intensive – it takes a long time to do and a lot of effort – and it’s very extensive – it involves a lot of searching on trucks, snowmobiles, snowshoes, even cross-country skis,” Roell said.

Wolves are currently on the federal endangered species list.

That means states like Michigan have no power to manage their numbers.

Furthermore, wolves can be killed only if they are a direct and immediate threat to human life.

Because of the stable population numbers, though, the Michigan DNR has long advocated for wolves to be removed from the endangered species list.

“It suggests we’re reaching that biological carrying capacity and we’re just seeing oscillations around it. This population is very stable. It’s secure. We’ve held this number for the last 14 years,” Roell said.

The DNR is unsure whether any wolves exist in the Lower Peninsula.

Wisconsin’s latest wolf population survey, completed last year, estimated about 1,000 wolves in the state.

Ben worked as the Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR from September 2019 until November 2021. He then contributed with periodic stories until 2024. During his full-time employment, his main focus was reporting on environment and natural resources issues in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula as part of The Stream, a weekly series.
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