Large Predators in Michigan

by Hannah Ettema
MNA Intern

Bears, cougars and wolves, oh my! In the past few months and weeks some of Michigan’s large predators have been making it into the news. As scary as predators seem, they are crucial to Michigan’s ecosystems and are most likely more afraid of you than you are of them.

Large predators are regulators of the number of prey in an ecosystem. If the population of large carnivores declines or disappears, plant species composition can be altered because the herbivores that eat them are more abundant. This is called top-down regulation, where the top of the food-chain or ecosystem controls and influences the species below them.

Predators in an ecosystem are indicators of a healthy ecosystem they help create. If a predator exists in a community, they promote the health in the communities around them. In Michigan black bears, gray wolves and cougars should be indicators of the healthy state of the ecosystem.

Here’s some basic information and the real scoop on large predators in Michigan.

Black Bears

Of the approximately 17,000 black bears that live in Michigan, 90 percent live in the Upper Peninsula. The black bear is protected by law and managed by the DNR.


Black Bear distribution in Michigan.

Black bears are shy by nature and rarely attack humans. Earlier this month however, 21-year old Chad Fortune, a hunter in Emmett county, was attacked while in his tree stand. Check out the story here. Black bear cubs began climbing up his stand, and after he defended himself from them the mother bear bit his leg.

To avoid unfortunate circumstances such as Chad’s, there are some easy precautions anyone can take. When camping, hunting or outdoors in Michigan, minimize food odors and waste and do not keep food of any kind in tents. Suspend food and waste 12 feet above ground 10 feet from trunk and 5 feet from nearest branch.


Like black bears, cougars are native to Michigan but their population drastically declined at the beginning of the 20th century. Since then, periodic sightings have been reported throughout Michigan. Cougars are highly secretive and solitary; the odds of seeing one are incredibly small. Usually six to nine feet long, cougars mainly prey on deer.

cougar in tree


Recently, a fuzzy photo of a cougar was taken in Bay County. Take a look at the photo here. Cougars have only been confirmed by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, but the public has reported seeing tracks in the Lower Peninsula as well. The DNR is still undecided as to whether the photo was of a cougar.

Gray Wolves

In recent years, gray wolves have begun to recolonize the Lower Peninsula. This past August a wolf pup was confirmed in Cheboygan county. Check out the story here. Check out the January MNA newsletter for more information about gray wolves in Michigan and again now in the Lower Peninsula.