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Wolf populations steady in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Wolves on Isle Royale
After steadily increasing between 1989 and 2011, Michigan's wolf population been steady for the past decade. (Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.)

The wolf population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula has now been stable for over a decade.

The Department of Natural Resources released the findings of its 2022 wolf survey on Tuesday.

Past surveys showed a steady increase in Michigan’s wolves between 1989 and 2011. The most recent findingssuggest that roughly 630 wolves are split into about 130 packs throughout the Upper Peninsula.

Those figures have stayed about the same for the past 10 years.

“We really aren't adding new packs to our wolf population,” said Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with the DNR. “Basically all the suitable wolf habitat is occupied by wolves in the Upper Peninsula.”

While there’s been no significant change in total population numbers, the latest survey does suggest a regional shift. Some areas in the western U.P. have seen a decrease in wolf population density, while the density further east has risen.

“It's really not the wolves themselves moving; I think what you're seeing is more of an artifact of reproductive success,” Roell said. “But I always add a little word of caution to that because it's one sample point – one snapshot in time.”

Roell says a series of especially harsh winters in the western U.P. could have slowed wolf reproduction, while wolves in the eastern U.P. had more pups.

Michigan’s wolves continue to surpass state and federal goals for the species’ recovery after near extinction in the mid 1900s.

Patrick Shea was a natural resources reporter at Interlochen Public Radio. Before joining IPR, he worked a variety of jobs in conservation, forestry, prescribed fire and trail work. He earned a degree in natural resources from Northland College in Ashland, Wisconsin, and his interest in reporting grew as he studied environmental journalism at the University of Montana's graduate school.