DNR: No major change in U.P. wolf population

MARQUETTE – Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials said Wednesday the latest wolf survey results indicate no significant change in the Upper Peninsula population of the animals over the past year.

“Based on the 2014 minimum population estimate, it is clear that wolf numbers in Michigan are stable and have experienced no significant change,” Adam Bump, DNR furbearer and bear specialist, said in a news release. “We also did not see a significant difference in the number and average size of wolf packs as compared to 2013.”

DNR wildlife biologists estimate there was a minimum of 636 wolves in Michigan this winter, with a confidence interval of plus-or-minus 42 animals. In comparison, the 2013 population estimate was 658 wolves, with a confidence interval of plus-or-minus 56 animals.

DNR Wildlife Division and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services personnel search specific zones for wolf tracks and other signs of wolf activity. DNR officials said that while the survey is primarily a track survey, it also uses radio-collared animals and aerial observation.

That information is combined with data from field work to produce a minimum population estimate and confidence intervals. This year, approximately 63 percent of the U.P. was surveyed.

Biologists said since wolves returned naturally to the U.P. in the 1980s, the population has grown steadily until it began to level off in recent years. Wildlife biologists expect population leveling when a recovered population approaches its biological carrying capacity.

Biologists said Michigan’s minimum wolf population estimate has remained between 600-700 wolves over the past few years.

Last fall, the first state-managed wolf hunt was conducted in three wolf management zones in the U.P. with a total quota of 43 wolves. Hunters killed a total of 22 wolves, which matches the drop in the wolf survey population estimate.

“The fact that the 2014 estimate is 22 animals lower than the 2013 estimate is purely a coincidence.” Bump said. “We are using an estimate rather than counting all individual wolves on the landscape. In addition, wolf numbers vary greatly within a single year due to the birth of pups in the spring, and deaths from many causes of mortality other than hunting. What the estimate tells us is that the population has remained stable.”

The results of the wolf survey will be among the things DNR biologists consider in evaluating wolf management strategies, including the possibility of future wolf management hunts.