Wolves’ comeback in western Great Lakes poses challenges

Once hunted to near extinction in the lower 48 by the middle of the 20th century, the majestic grey wolf is now on a roll in the Upper Midwest.  And the growing number of wolf packs roaming the forests near the western Great Lakes is having an impact on local communities.

Wildlife biologists at the Interior Department’s Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) say there are some 4,000 grey wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan (Upper Peninsula).   Another 1,700 grey wolves are in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.

While the rebound of the wolf in the sparsely populated West has not been without problems, the carnivore’s resurgence in the Great Lakes has brought it in conflict with many rural residents.

As their numbers have grown in recent years, so, too, have their attacks on livestock, pets, and hunting dogs.  Also, the wolves have been feasting on deer, depleting their numbers to the point where hunters and people who let hunters use their land are beginning to see them with suspicion.  There have been no reported attacks against humans, but some residents complain of having been stalked while out in the wilds hunting, fishing, or hiking.

Officials at FWS have been trying to remove the grey wolf from the Endangered Species List, but their efforts have been thwarted by suits filed by environmental groups and animal-rights activists. Removal from the list would allow limited hunting and trapping of wolves in states where their numbers are seen as posing a threat to wildlife beyond the wolves’ natural predation and a nuisance to local residents.

What further complicates things is that the grey wolf is listed as “endangered” in some states and “threatened” in others. Last year, wolves were removed from the endangered list in Idaho and Montana, and both states held legal wolf hunts this spring.  In Wisconsin and Michigan, wolves are listed as threatened, but they still are listed as endangered in Wyoming.

The grey wolf (Canis lupus) emerged in the Late Pleistocene, around 300,000 years ago.  Adult males typically weigh over 100 pounds. Having survived the coming and going of a few ice ages, grey wolves have shown they are capable of adapting to a variety of prey.

Laurie Groskopf, who lost a dog to wolves last summer, is a 58-year-old part time wildlife technician living in northern Wisconsin.  In an interview with the Wall Street Journal (May 29), she had this to say about the uneasy relationship between man and wolf:  “It’s a thrill to see them, but they need to live in a place where they can be at peace and people can, too.”

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About the Author: Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.