(WXYZ) — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said the state's wolf population has been stable over the past nine years, with the latest survey estimating nearly 700 wolves across the Upper Peninsula.
According to the DNR, there were 143 packs and 695 wolves in the U.P., with pack size remaining stable at an average of just under five wolves.
“The survey is important because it helps us monitor wolf distribution and abundance, answer research questions and evaluate progress toward state and federal recovery goals,” DNR Wildlife Division Acting Chief Dan Kennedy said. “Our survey results continue to demonstrate that Michigan’s wolf population has recovered.”
The survey was conducted from December through March, before wolves had produced pups, when the population is at its lowest point in the annual cycle.
“Once survey units have been identified for a given year, surveyors drive roads and trails in trucks and on snowmobiles looking for wolf tracks,” said Dean Beyer, a DNR wildlife research biologist who organizes the sampling and generates the wolf population estimate for the biennial survey. “Once they find wolf tracks, surveyors follow the tracks as long as is practical to determine the number of individual wolves that made the tracks.”
The survey is done by searching specific areas for wolf tracks and other wolf activity like marking or breeding indications.
“Surveyors try to locate adjacent packs on the same day, to ensure they are not double-counting the same wolves,” said Beyer. State and federal wildlife staff also trap wolves in the spring and outfit them with GPS collars to help determine pack boundaries. This helps determine which tracks belong to each pack during the winter survey.
In 2019-2020, around 62% of the Upper Peninsula was surveyed.
Wolves returned naturally to the U.P. int he 1980s and the population rebounded.
“Given the relatively consistent abundance estimates since 2011, it appears the wolf population has likely reached the carrying capacity of the Upper Peninsula,” said Cody Norton, a wildlife management specialist with the DNR’s bear, wolf and cougar program in Marquette.
Wolves in Michigan remain a federally protected species and may be killed legally only in defense of human life.