The wolf population in the Upper Peninsula has been stable for more than a decade and a survey from early 2022 confirms that trend has continued.
Wildlife biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources released their findings of the latest Michigan gray wolf survey on Wednesday.
The survey is conducted every other winter and covers the Upper Peninsula, including Drummond, Neebish and Sugar islands -- but excludes Isle Royale. The wolves on Isle Royale are managed by the National Park Service.
“These results show a continued trend of statistical stability, indicating that gray wolves may have reached their biological carrying capacity within the Upper Peninsula,” said Cody Norton, the DNR’s wolf specialist. “Wolf presence has only been confirmed twice genetically in the Lower Peninsula in recent times; in 2004 and 2014.”
Analysis of the data collected during the 2022 wolf survey was delayed as wildlife biologists worked on updating the state’s Wolf Management Plan.
The minimum wolf population estimate from the 2022 survey is 631 wolves, plus or minus 49 wolves. A total of 136 packs was estimated with an average number of individuals per pack calculated at 4.5.
“Our minimum wolf population estimate is not statistically different from the last estimate in 2020,” Norton said. “All of the estimates since 2011 have not differed statistically.”
The study did find that wolf density has shifted over time. Biologists believe that could be linked to significant winter weather events during 2013-2015, which reduced deer densities in mid- and high-snowfall zones of the region.
“The density of wolves may have decreased in some areas of the west U.P. and increased in some parts of the east U.P.,” DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell said.
Wolf population has remained stable since 2011
The wolf population in the Upper Peninsula showed steady growth from 1989 to 2011.
According to officials, the population grow with an average annual rate of 19% from 1994 to 2007. The average annual growth rate was 12% from 2003 to 2007.
Since 2011, the minimum estimate for the wolf population has remained stable ranging from 618 to 695. In the winter of 2020, a minimum estimate of 695 wolves was found in the Upper Peninsula.
Wolves in the Lower Peninsula
A wolf that had been captured and radio-collared in the eastern Upper Peninsula was captured and killed by a coyote trapper in Presque Isle County in October 2004.
That was the first time a wild wolf was verified in the Lower Peninsula in 69 years. Winter track surveys completed during 2005 through 2010 did not find any signs of wolves in the Lower Peninsula.
In 2014, biologists from the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians caught footage of what appeared to be a wolf on a trail camera. They were able to collect a scat sample and DNA analysis confirmed the animal was a wolf.
Officials said it is possible that wolves are in the Lower Peninsula, but as of January 2023, wolves are not known to exist there.
New online dashboard tracks wolf and dog conflicts
The DNR created an online dashboard that tracks incidents of conflicts between wolves and dogs.
The dashboard includes mapped points of conflicts and a database of reported incidents over many years.
Click here to view the dashboard.
Want to learn more about wolves in Michigan? Click here.