Wet spring could affect wolf population estimates

Published: Jul. 11, 2017 at 5:21 PM EDT
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It's been a tough year to collect data on wolves in the Upper Peninsula. The wet spring could have an impact on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources' biennial wolf population estimates.

As part of the Michigan Wolf Management Plan, the DNR surveys wolves in the Upper Peninsula.

Their research helps shape policy decisions, including whether to allow public hunting. One of the main ways they survey wolves is through population estimates, released every other year.

"We trap wolves," said Kevin Swanson, wildlife management specialist with the DNR's Wildlife Division. "We've got several researchers and biologists that do the trapping, and it's basically to get collars on wolves so that we can assess mortality."

But you can't estimate population if you can't find any wolves. The long, wet spring made trapping difficult. One DNR wildlife biologist, Brian Roell, was unable to catch any wolves at all.

"It's the continuous rain," Roell said. "Everybody had the same deal across the U.P. It just makes it very difficult."

Thankfully, other researchers across the U.P. did tag some wolves. DNR experts said even with this year's low number of new tags, they could get a fairly accurate picture using data from all the other wolves they tagged in the last five years.

Recent population numbers are mixed. Michigan wolf populations have risen in the last 20 years, but DNR officials said they were seeing more wolf deaths from disease, including canine distemper.

"Canine distemper is not anything new, but it does seem to be at a peak," Roell said. "Maybe it will taper off. Those are things we'll be looking for this winter to see if we see any effect."

The last population estimate in 2016 was 618 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. The DNR will release the next estimate in spring 2018.