The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will survey for wolf tracks and other signs of wolves across the northern Lower Peninsula. (Courtesy photo / February 12, 2013)
"We're limited in our staff numbers, so people out there can help. If they see something that they think is a wolf, we'd like to investigate it," said DNR wildlife biologist Jennifer Kleitch. "We can have more eyes on the ground than what we can just do by ourselves."
Kleitch said the DNR conducted an in-depth survey in recent years, in which employees rode snowmobile trails and two-tracks looking for wolf signs.
"That never really turned up anything that could point to wolf tracks, and it got expensive to do," said Kleitch. "So we have gone to this method, hoping we could get info from the public."
In 2004, the DNR trapped a wolf in the northern Lower Peninsula's Presque Isle County. The wolf had been radiocollared in the Upper Peninsula. The wolf could have ranged over the ice at the Straits of Mackinac during the winter, said Kleitch.
Kleitch said the DNR still has not recorded established wolf packs or wolves in the northern Lower Peninsula.
In 2010, the DNR trapped two coyote pups, both females, that weighed in at 49 and 41 pounds.
"That's a very large coyote," said Kleitch.
The coyotes were so large that the DNR thought it might have found a pack of wolves and coyotes that were interbreeding. But genetic testing showed something different. The mitochondrial DNA — DNA passed down from the maternal side — was from a wolf. But the autosomal DNA, which is used to identify animals, was from coyote.
"So it was technically not a hybrid (of coyote and wolf)," said Kleitch.
While the DNR expected initially that the pups proved an actively inter-breeding, the inter-breeding had actually taken place many generations previous to the current pups, according to a state geneticist.
"We don't know how far back it would have been that the coyotes interbred," said Kleitch.
These large coyotes present a little bit of a problem for the DNR — part of why it will help to have the public have its eye to the forest floor. Sometimes the tracks of a large coyote or dog can be confused with a wolf's tracks.
"We would like to try to get some DNA if possible, to confirm it is wolves we're seeing and not large coyotes. But that's hard to come by, because they don't just leave DNA lying around too often," said Kleitch.
Residents and outdoorspeople can report wolf sightings or tracks believed to be from a wolf between Feb. 11-March 8. The DNR also encourages the public to turn any trail camera photos they might have of wolves. The DNR is looking for recent evidence — sightings, tracks or photos seen or taken within the last day or two.
"It's possible we may have a couple or a few wolves (in the northern Lower Peninsula), but it doesn't appear that way at least now. That's what we're looking to find out: the establishment of territories. That's kind of what the survey will try to help us determine," said Kleitch.
The DNR is partnering in this survey effort with U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians and Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians.
The public can report their findings by phone at (989) 732-3541, ext. 5901. Reports can also be submitted online at www.dnr.state.mi.us/wildlife/pubs/wolf_obsreport.asp.