Thursday, March 16, 2006

Wildlife officials find no sign of wolves in north Lower Michigan

By SHERI MCWHIRTER - Record-Eagle staff writer

GAYLORD - State wildlife officials for the second consecutive year failed to detect any gray wolves in northern Lower Michigan. But they're not giving up hope.

"We know there are not big groups of wolves here. We would have detected that. But we do know we have some independent animals," said Brian Mastenbrook, wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

A month was dedicated to the project this year, but the number of hours spent in the woods and miles covered have yet to be tallied. Participants came from the DNR, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Central Michigan University and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.

"We had a couple of investigations that turned out to be dogs or coyotes," said Doug Craven, the tribe's director of the Natural Resources Department.

Mastenbrook said last year, 24 people spent more than 400 hours driving backwoods roads and trails, looking without success for signs of wolves north of M-32 during a two-week period. Brian J. Roell, DNR wolf coordinator, contends a continuation of the Lower Peninsula population survey is warranted. He works in the Upper Peninsula, where more than 400 of the canine predators roam. "We know wolves are eventually going to get there. That's already been shown with the one collared animal," Roell said. "I think wolves can survive there at some number. It's a matter of time. It's not an 'if.'"

A radio-collared female wolf was killed in Presque Isle County by a coyote trapper in October 2004 and the DNR since confirmed at least two other wolves from tracks found in that area. Meanwhile, the wolf survey in the Upper Peninsula continues and Roell said he expects another increase in known animals. Their numbers have jumped by about 12 percent over the last couple years, he said.

Wolves were hunted into extinction in Michigan, but began to return from Canada and Wisconsin in the early 1990s. Just three animals were known of in 1989, Roell said.

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