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Michigan U.P. wolf population grows, according to new estimate; Lower Peninsula survey planned for 2025

Gray wolf USFWS.jpeg
Posted at 8:46 AM, Jun 14, 2024

Michigan's wolf population is stable, according to the latest results of the wolf survey done by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources over the winter.

According to the DNR, the 2024 winter wolf population survey estimate found a minimum of 762 wolves in the U.P., an increase of 131 animals from the 2022 estimate of 631.

These results demonstrate a trend of stability in Michigan's wolf population, and it has achieved an equilibrium between the availability of habitats and the number of wolves that habitat can support over time.

“This year’s survey findings are statistically consistent with our wolf population surveys for the past 14 years,” DNR Large Carnivore Specialist Brian Roell said in a statement. “When a wild population reaches this stable point, it is typical to see slight variations from year to year, indicating that gray wolves may have reached their biological carrying capacity in the Upper Peninsula.”

The population is distributed among 158 packs in the U.P., with an average of just under five wolves per pack.

The DNR uses a sampling method to reduce the search area and allow additional time to county wolves, by using geographic stratification. That means they break up regions into small pieces to ensure they have representative samples, and then they get a minimum estimate during the winter, when wolves are at their lowest point in the yearly population cycle.

Now, the department is planning to continue its search for wolves in the Lower Peninsula. The last survey took place in 2025, and a new survey is planned for early 2025.

Monitoring wolves in the northern Lower Peninsula is different because the wolves are at such low-density, if present at all. They use a targeted search approach based on resident reports of wolves or wolf signs – like tracks or scat – to search areas that likely have wolves.

The DNR said the state's wolf population is not known to extend into Michigan.

During a 2011 track survey and after the 2015 survey, tracks consistent with a wolf were observed in Cheboygan and Emmet counties, and in 2014, biologists from the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians captured what appeared to be a wolf on a trail camera, and a scat sample confirmed it was a male wolf.

The last wolf IDed in the Lower Peninsula was a male wolf killed in January 2024 in Calhoun County by a coyote hunter. An investigation failed to determine how it ended up in the southern areas of the Lower Peninsula.

“Research has suggested that there is suitable habitat for wolves in the northern Lower Peninsula,” said Roell. “However, this habitat is fragmented and the ability of wolves to travel the landscape among these habitat patches is uncertain. Suitable habitat becomes even more patchy in the more populated southern Lower Peninsula, which makes it unlikely that wolves would establish themselves there.”

Wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and can only be killed if they are a direct and immediate threat.

Because they have attained population goals, the DNR said it advocates for returning wolves to state management.