Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Return of Grey Wolves to Menominee County

Wolf spotted on a forest road in nearby Oconto County (May 17, 2012)

Dear George,
At our recent family reunion in Birch Creek I mentioned to my sister Vicki that I’d run across a news item about grey wolves being sighted in Menominee County.  My four-year-old granddaughter V was listening, and her eyes opened as wide as can be.  She’d already heard somebody mention that a family of black bears lived on our property (which is true), and the possibility of wolves in the back yard was too much to contemplate.

A few decades ago grey wolves had nearly vanished from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Only six animals were located in a census conducted in 1973.  However, experts estimate that there are more than 600 living in the U.P. today.  Half a dozen wolves equipped with radio collars were shot and killed in the U.P. in 2010, including one in Menominee County.  Last January a resident named Jennifer K. reported sighting a wolf outside her home in Wallace, just a few miles north of our family property in Birch Creek (see pic below).  Dan K., a Menominee County hunting guide, said that he’d used to see a couple of wolves per year, but now he sees about three per month.  He watched a wolf run down and kill a fawn on a Menominee County road last year. In nearby Marinette County a local bearhunter lost track of Dixie, one of his bluetick hunting hounds, then minutes later found her skeletal remains totally stripped and devoured by wolves.  Two dairy farmers in eastern Menominee County had 17 of their cattle killed by wolf packs in a recent year, and they suspect that the disappearance of multiple pets is also attributable to wolves.  One of the farmers bought a donkey to help protect his herd since donkeys have a keen sense of hearing and go after predators.  So far the donkey just brays all day and night.  Wildlife biologists state that wolves don’t pose a threat because they’re afraid of humans, though a Menominee County logger reports having been surrounded by a pack of eight wolves.  He now carries a weapon when he works in the forest.     

Grey wolf, caught by a trail camera at Wallace in Menominee County (Jan. 20, 2012)

Grey wolves range between 80 and 100 pounds, about the size of Old English Sheepdogs, and look like shaggy German Shepherds.  They hunt alone or in packs of 4 to 7, preying on deer, beaver, rabbits, rodents, and other small animals, as well as livestock, carrion, and garbage.  Wolves develop strong social bonds and may even sacrifice themselves to protect their family group.  A pack of wolves has a territory of about 100 square miles, and they can trot nonstop for up to 20 straight hours, allowing them to cover large distances in search of prey.  A grey wolf eats up to 20 pounds of meat at a time and can go for up to a week without eating again.  When they can’t find animal prey, they eat berries, bugs, and grasses.     

Map of the Grey Wolf Range: North Central States

Up till January of this year wolves were protected by the Endangered Species Act, but farmers and cattle growers in the U.P. have been angered because of wolves eating their livestock and reducing the deer population.  Despite a $25,000 fine, there’s been a rash of grey wolf killings in the U.P. in recent years.  Environmentalists disagree that wolves constitute a significant threat to the deer herd.  There are about 300,000 deer in the U.P., but only 600 wolves.  It’s estimated that each wolf will consume about 15-18 deer per year.  That amounts to only about 4% of the U.P.’s deer herd, and many of the deer consumed by wolves are already dying from starvation, weakened by old age, or have been killed by automobiles.

Wolf pack, Isle Royale, Upper Peninsula

I personally think the idea that our family property might occasionally be visited by a wolf pack is exciting.  It’s scary, to be true, but that helps lend a little emotional edge to family visits.

“Grey Wolf,”
“Hunting: Wolf threat hits home in Marinette County.”
“Michigan Grey Wolf,”
“No Doubt: Deer Patterns Change in Wolf Country,”
“Rash of wolf kills in Upper Peninsula worry federal wildlife officials,”
“Upper Peninsula Wolves Killed Despite Being Endangered,”
“Wolf Sighting in Menominee County,”
“Wolves versus farmers,” 

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