Headline: DNR: Wolf conflicts with dogs and cows have increased in U.P.
MARQUETTE – Over the past month, Dickinson County farmer Allen Holmes has had two calves killed and another injured by wolves, with another calf and a bull missing.
And Holmes is not alone.
Wolves have been killing a higher than typical number of cows and hunting dogs in the Upper Peninsula this month, an effect state biologists said they believe is related to tough conditions for wildlife last winter.
“It’s something we predicted,” said Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Marquette. “It coincides with (wolf) pups being weaned and demanding more food.”
Roell said there is less natural prey for wolves this summer, given the harsh conditions last winter.
“Unfortunately, these wolves are turning to any available prey,” Roell said.
As of Thursday, the DNR said there had been a total of 23 cows killed in 20 depredation attacks scattered across Iron, Mackinac, Ontonagon, Houghton, Schoolcraft, Chippewa and Dickinson counties so far this year. Six cows have been killed in roughly the past two weeks.
In 2013, there were 13 livestock depredation incidents attributed to wolves, resulting in the loss of 11 cattle, one pig and a sheep, according to the DNR.
Holmes said this month’s depredation on his farm near Ralph is the first he’s encountered. He maintains a herd of 150 cows, including 80 brood cows. He said he’s tried to battle the problem by killing predators, including 13 coyotes.
“On August 3rd, I shot my first wolf,” Holmes said. “It was going after a calf that already had a bite out of its rear end.”
State law allows farmers to kill wolves in the act of harming livestock or dogs.
“A couple days before that, we noticed our first damage,” Holmes said.
The DNR has investigated the livestock killings and provided reimbursement for losses to the Holmes Farm.
“We’re glad they’re cooperating with us,” Holmes said. “It’s been a big help.”
In 2013, there were 17 dogs killed in a total of seven depredation events. This month alone there have been seven dogs killed and one injured in separate incidents from five U.P. counties.
“They were all hounds and they were all in the act of training,” Roell said.
The dog killings began Aug. 4 in Schoolcraft County. Two days later, Chippewa and Delta counties logged wolf attacks on dogs, followed by another in Chippewa County Aug. 10. The fifth wolf-dog incident was reported in Mackinac County Aug. 14.
“Up until the last two weeks or so, there hadn’t been a dog killed and now it just started in,” said Mike Thorman, legislative liaison for the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation. “In the last two weeks we’ve had seven dogs killed, one injured and that’s a big deal to people who like to take their dogs into the woods and hunt with their dogs.”
State law does not provide for financial reimbursement for hunting dogs killed.
Roell said dog training season begins in July, but hunters sometimes wait until the cooler days of August to devote more time to running their dogs. This coincides with the time of year young wolves are looking for more food.
Thorman said heading into fall, grouse hunters and other visitors may also encounter wolves. He said negative encounters could affect tourism and the region’s economy.
“Grouse hunting: People come from all over the country, it’s like the U.P. is the holy land of grouse hunting,” Thorman said. “And when they read about these wolves killing their dogs, that deters people, and when people get deterred, coming out of state and coming up there, that’s money out of the U.P. pockets.”
Thorman, who lives in downstate Lapeer County, said he used to bear hunt in the U.P., but stopped because of the potential of having wolves kill his hunting dogs.
“You spend a week up there and you drop a lot of money – at least $1,500 to $1,800 in a week – just one guy, by the time you figure your meals and your lodging and your gas and whatever,” he said.
Thorman said hunting dogs amount to 55 percent of the dogs killed by wolves over the past five or six years, with other domestic dogs – including sled dogs – comprising the remaining 45 percent.
“It’s not just a hunting dog issue,” Thorman said.
Roell said wolf predation typically escalates in June right before the peak of fawn production.
“It usually calms down in midsummer and then it picks up again,” Roell said.
The August resurgence in depredation on dogs and livestock is typically associated with the higher food demands of the young wolves and fawns being older, bigger and harder to catch for wolves than in early summer.
Roell said this summer there has been a lack of prey for wolves after two consecutive hard winters.
Holmes said that factor may be contributing to the depredation on his farm.
“There’s no deer so they have to go after something else,” Holmes said.
After the wolf attacks on dogs in Delta and Schoolcraft counties this month, the DNR killed two adult wolves, one male and one female.
The Michigan Wolf Management Plan, developed by a range of interests, allows for a number of problem wolves to be killed by the state each year.
Thorman, who helped develop the plan and sits on the Wolf Advisory Committee, said the vast majority of wolf packs don’t kill dogs or livestock. He said wolf experts have told him six wolf packs might trot through a beef farm and keep moving and the seventh may decide to stay.
“Not all wolf packs kill dogs, not all wolf packs depredate on cattle or sheep, so we’ve got to keep that in mind and then focus on managing the ones that do,” Thorman said.
Thorman said when wolves prove to be a problem with domestic animals -whether dogs or livestock – the “hound community” wants the DNR to be able – as they are doing and have been doing a good job of – be allowed to manage wolves in the way they see is most efficient.
Thorman urged anyone who has had a dog or livestock attacked to report it the DNR. He said the agency will act upon the situation and document the incident. The DNR maintains online maps showing the locations of dog depredations to help alert hunters and the general public.
“We absolutely do not want to see wolves banished from the landscape,” Thorman said. “But when there is a pack that has proved to be troublesome, well then they’ve got to be handled, simple as that.”
In addition to the reports of wolves killing livestock and hunting dogs, the DNR has had more than 40 nuisance or bold wolf complaints this year, many originating in the town of Bessemer in Gogebic County.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.