on September 17, 2015
EMMET COUNTY, MI — Genetic testing has confirmed the long-held belief by some that gray wolves have moved into Michigan Lower Peninsula, although there's not yet evidence of a breeding population, say state officials.
On Thursday, Sept. 17, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced the second confirmed presence of a gray wolf in the Lower Peninsula since 1910. Tribal officials announced the testing results earlier this week.
"We have had some tracks and potential sightings, but genetic testing gives us a definitive confirmation," said Kevin Swanson, DNR bear and wolf specialist.
Genetic testing of male wolf scat samples found last March closely match northeast Ontario wolves, indicating the wolf was likely not an escaped captive.
The tracks and scat were found in Emmet County by Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians biologists. State biologists concurred with the tribe that the tracks appeared to be from two separate wolves. The DNA testing was done by Ontario's Trent University.
Trail cameras also captured images of a wolf around the time.
The DNR believes wolves may have traveled across the frozen Straits of Mackinac to reach the Lower Peninsula, said Swanson. Given the habitat capabilities in northern Lower Michigan, "the DNR is not surprised that wolves are moving south."
The DNR says gray wolves began naturally returning to Michigan's Upper Peninsula through Canada and Wisconsin in the early 1990s. Since that time, populations have increased and their range has continued to expand -- with the exception of Isle Royale, where the population has declined to the point where university biologists are imploring the National Park Service to import wolves "as soon as possible."
In 2004, a coyote trapper in Presque Isle County accidentally killed a gray wolf that had been previously captured and collared in Mackinac County. That marked the first verified wolf report in the Lower Peninsula since 1910.
In 2010, animals thought to be wolves were trapped and collared in Cheboygan County. Later DNA analysis confirmed them to be coyotes, not gray wolves.
This past winter, DNR staff investigated potential wolf tracks in Cheboygan and Emmet counties. No scat or hair was found for a genetic testing.
The DNR has not confirmed a breeding wolf population in the Lower Peninsula. Staff will continue to investigate reports and administer winter track surveys. The public's help in tracking sightings and paw prints has been sought this year.
The debate over Michigan wolves -- and whether the state should be able to proceed with future hunts or lethal removal -- has continued in the wake of a federal decision that returned the Great Lakes population to endangered status. Presently, wolves can only be killed if they pose an imminent threat to human life.
In June, the DNR updated it's 2008 Wolf Management Plan to "acknowledge that wolves in Michigan have surpassed state and federal population recovery goals for 15 years." Michigan's Upper Peninsula is home to slightly more than 600 wolves, up from just six in the 1970s. Hunting advocates argue the population warrants stronger management to reduce conflicts with livestock and comfort levels around humans.
The wolf is a sacred clan animal among the Anishinaabe Native America tribes.
Anyone finding possible wolf tracks or collecting photographic evidence should contact a local DNR wildlife office. Reports of observations also can be submitted online.
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.