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Michigan Wolf Population At Nearly 700 But Leveling Off

grey wolf
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Michigan’s gray wolves appear to have stabilized at a healthy level three decades after beginning a remarkable comeback in the Upper Peninsula, wildlife officials said Monday.

The latest biennial survey conducted this winter estimated the predator species’ population at 695, divided among 143 packs, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. The typical pack has around five wolves.

The survey was conducted from December through March, before this year’s pups were born — when the numbers are lowest in a particular year, officials said.

“Our survey results continue to demonstrate that Michigan’s wolf population has recovered,” said Dan Kennedy, acting chief of the DNR’s Wildlife Division.

Wolves occasionally are spotted in the northern Lower Peninsula but no established population is known to exist there.

Wolves had mostly disappeared from most of the Lower 48 states in the last century because of shooting, trapping and poisoning, with support from government bounty programs.

They were added to the federal endangered species list in the 1970s, which made killing them illegal except to save human life. Afterward, a remnant population began migrating from Minnesota to northern Wisconsin and into Michigan’s U.P.

Numbers grew steadily. By 2004, wolves had reached the recovery goal of staying above 200 for five consecutive years. They were dropped from the state’s list of threatened and endangered species in 2009.

The population has leveled off over the past nine years and appears to have reached a “carrying capacity” of 600 to 700, said Cody Norton, a department wildlife management specialist.

The term refers to the number of wolves that can be supported by available food and habitat — and that humans will tolerate.

Wolves retain endangered status under federal law. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has tried repeatedly to remove them from the list, only to be overruled by courts in response to lawsuits by environmental and animal-rights groups that contend the species remains vulnerable.

The federal agency again proposed lifting protections in March 2019 but has yet to take final action.

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