Yesterday, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued this press release confirming the presence of a wolf in the Lower Peninsula. While reports of wolves in the Lower Peninsula have been circulating for years, this is the first time the DNR has confirmed the presence of a live wolf in the Lower Peninsula through DNA evidence. MUCC, along with other conservation groups, is appealing a December 2014 federal ruling that placed Great Lakes wolves back on the federal endangered species list and is pursuing additional federal legislation to de-list them. Wolves in Michigan have exceeded federal recovery goals for over 15 years. As of February 2014, there were at least 636 wolves in the Upper Peninsula at the low point in their yearly population cycle.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources today announced confirmation of gray wolf occurrence in Emmet County, marking the second confirmation of wolf presence in the Lower Peninsula since 1910.
Late last week, the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians received confirmation from Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario, that scat submitted for DNA analysis by the tribe in 2014 was from a male gray wolf.
Genetic testing also confirmed that the wolf was not likely to be an escaped captive, since it closely matched genetic information taken from northeast Ontario wolves.
In March 2014, tribal biologists discovered tracks and collected scat from Emmet County. DNR Wildlife Division staff then visited the site with biologists from the tribe and agreed the tracks appeared to be from two separate wolves.
At that time, trail camera photos also were reviewed by tribal biologists and DNR staff, and an image of what appeared to be a wolf was discovered. The tribe then submitted the collected scat to Trent University for DNA analysis, which led to last week’s confirmation.
“The DNR and partners continue to administer wolf track surveys in the northern Lower Peninsula, which were designed to determine if wolves have moved onto the Lower Peninsula landscape,” said Kevin Swanson, DNR bear and wolf specialist in Marquette. “We have had some tracks and potential sightings, but genetic testing gives us a definitive confirmation.”
Swanson said wolves dispersed from Upper Peninsula packs might travel to the northern reaches of the Lower Peninsula during cold winters that produce ice bridges between the two peninsulas.
Swanson said given the capability of the northern Lower Peninsula habitat to support wolves, the DNR is not surprised that wolves are moving south.
Swanson outlined some of the previous evidence reported.
In 2004, a gray wolf that had been previously captured and collared in the Upper Peninsula’s Mackinac County was caught and accidentally killed by a coyote trapper in Presque Isle County in the Lower Peninsula. This marked the first verified wolf report from the Lower Peninsula since 1910.
In 2010, animals which appeared to be wolves were trapped and collared in Cheboygan County. Later DNA analysis confirmed that the genetic assignment of these animals was coyotes, not gray wolves.
During the winter of 2014-15, DNR staff investigated potential wolf tracks in Cheboygan and Emmet counties. Scat or hair was not present for DNA analysis so a genetic confirmation was not possible.
The DNR has not confirmed a breeding wolf population in the northern Lower Peninsula. Staff will continue to investigate reports and administer winter track surveys.
Anyone finding possible wolf tracks or collecting photographic evidence should contact a local DNR wildlife office.
If anyone should encounter a wolf, the DNR recommends standing tall, making noise and walking away slowly. When in a safe location, notify the DNR of the sighting.
In 2014, during the most recent Upper Peninsula winter wolf survey, 636 wolves were estimated to inhabit the region.
In December, a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling again placed gray wolves in Michigan on the federal List of Endangered Species. The species remains protected by law and states are unable to use lethal measures from their management plans to address wolf conflicts. The one exception is threat to human life.
For more information on wolves, visit www.michigan.gov/wolves.