Crying wolf, only not

Michigan State Roundup

Published July 1, 2005  | July 2005 issue

It wasn't long ago that that seeing a wolf was a rare treat. That's not the case anymore, at least if you live in the Upper Midwest. Researchers have found that wolf numbers are increasing strongly in the Upper Peninsula as well as the northern halves of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

From this winter, the number of wolves in the U.P. grew by an estimated 7 percent to more than 400, roving in 86 packs, according to biologists with the state Department of Natural Resources. Wolf numbers in Wisconsin are believed to be about roughly equal to those in the U.P., but growing faster. Minnesota has by far the highest number of wolves—an estimated 3,000—up 23 percent from a year earlier, though the margin of error is about 25 percent, researchers said.

As wolves have become more numerous, they have become a more-familiar novelty. Indeed, there were reports of one wolf that meandered to a motel on the outskirts of the city of Marquette. A confirmed wolf sighting in Lower Michigan is the first recorded there since 1910, according to local newspaper reports.

But not everyone's happy about the resurgence, particularly farmers, who have been plagued with animal losses to hungry wolves. The other main constituency hurt has been deer hunters, who are starting to complain about thinner deer herds. Last year's deer harvest in the U.P. was down 16 percent, the lowest in a decade, according to the DNR. Higher deer numbers across the Upper Midwest are largely credited with the strong comeback of wolves.

Management of wolf populations-mostly through quota-based hunting seasons-has been proposed. But most states' hands were retied in January when a federal district court overturned a 2003 federal ruling that reclassified wolves from endangered to threatened. The "threatened" designation included special rules for farmers and other people adversely affected by wolves. Those exceptions were eliminated when the endangered tag was reapplied.

However, the endangered classification for wolves does offer of few tightly defined options for states to deal with problem wolves, and in May the DNR issued a permit to allow the taking of up to 20 wolves by year's end to deal with wolves preying on livestock.

Ronald A. Wirtz