At MNA, our Mission is to protect special natural areas and the rare species that live there. The goals of our blog are to cover the latest environmental issues affecting these areas and provide information about the efforts of our volunteers. Our weekly “ENDANGERED!” column serves to inform you about the endangered and threatened plant and animal species found in and around these special natural areas, and how you can contribute to conservation efforts before it is too late.
By Brandon Grenier
The gray wolf (Canis lupus) was once found in every county in Michigan. Now it is most commonly found in the Upper Peninsula. When Michigan was originally settled, state-driven efforts to get rid of wolves via paid bounty were hugely successful. By 1960, the gray wolf was nearly wiped out in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Since then, the state has changed its aims from eradication to protection.
The gray wolf is the largest member of the dog family. On average, adults are 30 inches in height and weigh 65 pounds. They have oversized paws, which is the best indicator to differentiate between wolves and coyotes in the wild. Gray wolves have a distinct black tipped tail and a white-gray coat of fur, sometimes mixed with light brown. Generally, gray wolves (also known as Timber Wolves) have light-colored fur around their muzzles and a black nose.
The gray wolf is an extremely adaptive animal and can survive almost anywhere in North America with large areas of contiguous forest. Surprisingly, some timber cutting and land management are good for wolves’ hunting; however, too much development restricts where the wolves can hunt and limits their range. Their choice of habitat is based more on a steady food source than their surroundings. They prey on deer, elk, beavers, hares, rodents and other animals.
Gray wolves in the wild live for approximately six-to-eight years, but can sometimes live for up to 13 years. Gray wolves mate for life, and breeding occurs in February between the alpha male and female of a wolf pack. Once the pups are born in April, the alpha female cares for them until they are weaned. All members of the pack provide nourishment for the pups until they are old enough to learn hunting skills.
The status of the gray wolf is among one the most controversial of animals in Michigan. The wolf was first listed as endangered in Michigan in 1973 after it was almost wiped out from both peninsulas. Confirmed sightings were only of solitary wolves until 1989, when a pair was spotted travelling together. The state wolf population grew from an estimated 20 in 1992 to 520 in 2008. In Michigan, the gray wolf was still listed as an endangered species as of June 2009. It was briefly delisted in May 2009, and lethal measures of control were legal throughout the state. After several complaints, the USFWS relisted the wolf as endangered.
The gray wolf is endangered mostly because of human development and because it is seen by many as a threat. Farmers do not want wolves eating their livestock; some people do not want wolves in their community. The more forests that are destroyed, the harder it is for gray wolves to find a sustainable food source and sufficient land to roam.
With their lowest recorded population at six animals in 1973, there have been multiple efforts to repopulate Michigan’s gray wolves. The USFWS has attempted to introduce animals from Wisconsin with some success, and since killing was banned, populations have made steady progress. Currently, gray wolves are found in every county in the Upper Peninsula.
How You Can Help:
Speak up! The DNR and USFWS are attempting to come to a final decision of whether gray wolves should be endangered, and will be asking the public for its opinion. If you believe the gray wolf should be saved, let them know before it is too late.
MNA protects wolves’ habitat at sanctuaries such as Echo Lake and Keweenaw Shores, which are known to be transportation corridors for the gray wolf.
MNA volunteers are currently working to protect this and other endangered and threatened species, and you can help too. Join our efforts as a volunteer removing invasive plants in the special natural areas where this species lives. Or, become a steward and take responsibility for planning efforts to maintain a specific MNA sanctuary. To find out how to get involved, visit our website.