Wolf populations are growing in the northwestern Great Lakes region, with the federal government removing the predator from regional endangered species protections as of Jan. 27. The decision returns management of the species to the state level.
More Than 4,000 Wolves
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, there are currently more than 4,000 wolves in the three core recovery states in the northwestern Great Lakes region, with wolf populations exceeding recovery goals. Minnesota’s population is estimated at 2,900 wolves, while approximately 700 wolves live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and another 800 are in Wisconsin. Each state has developed a plan to manage wolves after federal protection is removed.
Although sightings are uncommon, wolves have been in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula for 20 years, according to the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.
Wolves moving into the Lower Peninsula may multiply rapidly because of an abundance of wild prey, say experts. Michigan is home to 1.8 million deer, with the Lower Peninsula containing deer densities three to four times that of the Upper Peninsula.
Unique Regional Challenges
Wolves are more populous in the northwestern Great Lakes region than in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, where ranching dominates the economy and ranchers fear attacks on their livestock.
The unincorporated town of Atlanta, Michigan, sits on the 45th Parallel, the latitudinal line that marks the halfway point between the Equator and the North Pole. The town, which advertises itself as the elk capital of Michigan, is surrounded by heavily wooded forests and 11 area lakes. It’s a popular vacation spot and weekend destination, according to its Chamber of Commerce.
Phil LaMore, president of the Atlanta Chamber, says there is plenty of wildlife in the area besides deer and elk. The area is also home to rabbits, coyotes, and bobcats.
“It’s an outdoorsman’s paradise,” which is probably why wolves are moving into the area, said LaMore.
“We’re all aware of federal efforts to introduce them into the region, but no one’s really seen any yet,” he noted.
Ranching, Farming Fears
Opinions vary on the wisdom of encouraging a growing wolf population in the northwestern Great Lakes region.
Thomas Whitmire, who videotapes elk hunts at the nearby Canada Creek Ranch, says he has never seen a gray wolf in Atlanta but has seen them in the wild in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
“I went there to ski and saw a pack take down an elk once. I don’t think they’re going to take down any full-fledged healthy elks, but they’ll go after the old and the sick, which is fine with me because an unhealthy one can get an entire herd sick,” Whitmire explained.
Tom’s father, Gary Whitmire, a retired biology teacher and lifelong hunter, also lives in the Atlanta area. Like many people in the community, he is closely following the reintroduction of wolves into the region.
“I attended a meeting with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the farmers were there and they were concerned” about the safety of their animals, Whitmire said.
Although there have been incidents of wolves killing farm animals and pets in the Upper Peninsula, they are uncommon.
“A few wolves have been spotted, and some have even been trapped. They have their role—they take down the sick and elderly deer. The farmers are not too excited to see them return, but I view them as a novelty—they’re Mother Nature at work,” said Whitmire.
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Dallas, Texas.