Wednesday, July 19, 2006

DNR reports U.P. wolf numbers up slightly

By JACK STOREY/The Evening News

UPPER PENINSULA - Last winter's Department of Natural Resources wolf count found an estimated seven percent increase in the Upper Peninsula's native wolf population, but no sign of wolves in northern lower Michigan.

Across the U.P., however, DNR estimates of the wolf population rose to 434 resident animals - up somewhat from the 405 estimated last year. DNR official Brian Roell at the Marquette regional office said wolf numbers are down somewhat in the Eastern U.P., up in the west end region and about the same as last year in the central U.P.

The annual wolf count is based on winter tracking, collared animals and air surveys conducted during winter months, when the carnivores are easier to spot.

A DNR tracking team found no evidence of resident wolves in northern lower Michigan, where some wolf activity was reported in 2004. Three wolves were documented from Presque Isle County in 2004 - the first time the animals were spotted in lower Michigan in some 60 years.

While U.P. wolf numbers are up slightly, Roell said wolf complaints across the peninsula remained about the same as in 2005. “We may be seeing more tolerance,” he said of the flat complaint numbers.

He added that wolf depredation, or incidents of wolves taking farm animals or pets, is about the same this year as in 2005 with nine incidents reported. Both recent years are down significantly from 2004, when 16 depredation incidents were reported to the DNR.

Roell said winter wolf estimates are not an exact census. “No way can we count every one,” he said of the annual count. While he acknowledged that trackers could be 50 or 60 animals off an exact count in either direction, DNR is confident wolves are not twice or half the estimates stated.

He said so-called “lone wolves” wandering on their own are much harder to count than the packs of several animals most often seen in the wild.

Last winter's increase in wolf count follows a pattern set in 1989, after a decade or more of occasional wolf sightings across the Upper Peninsula. In every wolf survey but one since 1989, wolf number estimates have risen as the animals continue to reclaim their ancient habitat.

The survey in 1997 showed a slight decline in wolf numbers, according to a DNR statement.

The DNR encourages any citizen who sights a gray wolf to notify the nearest DNR office to report the sighting.

Currently, the gray wolf is a threatened species in Michigan and an endangered species nationwide. Roell noted that both Michigan and U.S. wildlife agencies are considering removing the wolf from either list, both of which bring a measure of protection for the animals.

The DNR official added that a 22-member Wolf Roundtable, empaneled by the DNR, continues to negotiate terms of “guiding principles” for “wolf management” by the DNR when the species is finally removed from protective status. The citizen panel will ultimately propose a wolf management plan for the day when wolves are “delisted.”

Roell said the DNR has found no sign that another ancient Michigan predator is making a comeback. He said a wolverine videotaped in the Thumb area of the state a few years ago was likely a lone animal. He suggested that the animal was definitely a wolverine, but likely escaped from an exotic animal farm in the area rather than migrating from the near arctic of northern Ontario, where wolverines are rare but native.

He said the nature of wolverines is more territorial than the gray wolf, which wanders widely in search of good hunting habitat.

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