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Grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, coyotes, cougars/ mountain lions,bobcats, wolverines, lynx, foxes, fishers and martens are the suite of carnivores that originally inhabited North America after the Pleistocene extinctions. This site invites research, commentary, point/counterpoint on that suite of native animals (predator and prey) that inhabited The Americas circa 1500-at the initial point of European exploration and subsequent colonization. Landscape ecology, journal accounts of explorers and frontiersmen, genetic evaluations of museum animals, peer reviewed 20th and 21st century research on various aspects of our "Wild America" as well as subjective commentary from expert and layman alike. All of the above being revealed and discussed with the underlying goal of one day seeing our Continent rewilded.....Where big enough swaths of open space exist with connective corridors to other large forest, meadow, mountain, valley, prairie, desert and chaparral wildlands.....Thereby enabling all of our historic fauna, including man, to live in a sustainable and healthy environment. - Blogger Rick

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Timber Wolf Alliance Educator Mike Cromley spoke recently about the return of the Wolf to Michigan over the past 40 years............Always good to hear this story of restoration repeated again and again............Gives all of us hope that it can be repeated across the entire Continent

Expert shared insights on wolves in northern Michigan at Harbor Springs event last week

Expert shared insights on wolves in northern Michigan at Harbor Springs event last week

Almost seven decades ago, the sound of a timber wolf's howl became nothing more than a ghost trail on the wind in the woods of northern Michigan. Soon after the state was incorporated, a law-- the sixth on Michigan's legislative books-- was created to rid the wild of wolves, deemed destructive and dangerous by the European settlers.Now protected, the howls of the Canis Lupus, known as "brother" to many Native American tribes, are slowly returning to this land. There are close to 600 wolves the Upper Peninsula, and just recently have made the return to dens below the bridge.
"A lot of people 'blame' the DNR (Department of Natural Resources) for bringing the wolves back to Michigan. That's not true. They have migrated back naturally," said Mike Cromley, an educator with the Timber Wolf Alliance, a Wisconsin-based non-profit organization dedicated to teaching people about the wolves.Cromley gave a talk last week at The Outfitter in Harbor Springs as part of the store's on-going monthly lecture series. He spoke passionately to the 70-plus members of the audience about the devastating way wolves were treated in the past, and why their return is worth celebrating today."For a time, the only timber wolves left in the country were in Minnesota. They had been completely eradicated in Michigan and Wisconsin. There were none out west."
According to the DNR's management and recovery plan, gray wolf numbers were around 112 in the Upper Peninsula in 1996-1997. Since then, they have been repopulating and migrating. As Michigan pack numbers are typically between 5-7 wolves, and packs do not share hunting territories. Timber wolves already were known to have crossed the Straits of Mackinac on occasion during the winter months, however, it is only recently that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources confirmed the existence of wolves living in the Lower Peninsula.
"The DNR is responsible for meeting federal laws because timber wolves are on the endangered species list. The DNR waited until they had absolute proof to acknowledge wolves are living below the bridge, because it is their job to protect them," Cromley said.
In order to make an official statement saying wolves returned, the DNR required sightings to include scat, tracks, and a photograph with a recognizable location (to allow the DNR to go to the spot and measure the surrounding trees in order to determine the size of the possible wolf, as many photos turn out to be coyotes, which are much smaller).
"I was told years ago that we (northern lower Michigan) were going to be a transit area. While the wolves have been coming down and playing around on the ice for some time now, they always went back north. But wolves don't need ice to migrate. They can swim up to seven miles. I live in a very rural area, and three out of the last five years, I have heard howling. In 2004, a radio-collared wolf was shot in Presque Isle. Last spring, a tourist in Mackinaw videoed a wolf walking along the shoreline east of Mackinaw City. However, there was still no proof of an actual population.
"The DNR set (no-harm) traps in an attempt to catch an adult wolf to radio collar it. They didn't get one of those. What they caught instead was a male pup, too small for a collar. They ear-tagged him, and the next wolves that were caught were two female pups-- 41 and 48-pounds each-- and both of those pups are now radio collared."
The acknowledged five member wolf pack has a range that runs roughly from I-75 to the University of Michigan Biological Station on Douglas Lake, Cromley said. Wolves will not inbreed, and if there are pups born next spring, the original three pups will migrate.
Again Cromley stressed part of the reason the DNR was hesitant to acknowledge the presence of wolves below the bridge was to protect the young pack, Cromley said.
"There is still a certain element of fear within agriculture, and hunters are scared the wolves will destroy the deer population. Fear can lead people to kill wolves. However, what we'll notice is a drop in the coyote population. Wolves will also feed on fox, squirrel, groundhogs, and their second favorite source of food-- beaver-- but they will probably only take down five-seven deer a year. There are 600 wolves in the U.P. and if you multiply that by seven, you still get a number dramatically less than the 6,000 deer that are killed each year by cars and trucks."
"Wolves, by nature, are actually extremely poor hunters," Cromley added. "They only hunt in packs, and even then, they are only successful one-fourth of the time. Deer that fall prey to wolves are old, weak, or diseased, and of course in the spring, wolves will take a fawn. If anything, wolves help restore a natural balance. They will help create healthier wildlife populations."
Showing images of a wolf being collared in the U.P. sitting calmly beside a DNR officer, Cromley said the animal was only masked not drugged, a testament to its docile nature.
"Don't forget that wolves are canines. A healthy wolf is benign and totally harmless to us. For years there has been a $5,000 reward in Canada for anyone who can prove a human has been attacked by a healthy wolf, and no one has ever claimed that money. "
He said farmers have long feared wolves as predators, making today's wolves vulnerable to lore that has already passed judgement against them.
"If a farmer can prove his livestock was taken by a wolf, he will be paid by the state to recoup the cost of said animal. Several years ago, of the 40 reported livestock kill cases, four were actually attributed to wolves, and those animals may have been dead before the wolves reached them."
The DNR takes saliva samples from carcasses to determine if wolves were involved in livestock deaths, but what they typically end up finding is DNA that matches coyotes, cougars, or dogs.
Cromley said parents who attend the programs he puts on for elementary age children have sometimes expressed concern wondering if wolves are a danger to children. He said that a child in close contact with a wolf would likely never know it was there, although the wolf would be well aware a human was in the area.
"Small dogs and cats may, on occasion, fall prey to a wolf. But they realize people are better killers. They stay away from us."
Many members of the audience recounted possible sightings of their own, which Cromley said was entirely possible. He gave the audience very specific ways to determine sightings or tracks, as well as information on what to do should they come across evidence of a wolf.
"From a distance, it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between coyotes and wolves. Coyotes are much smaller, and wolves have extremely long legs. A coyote could run under a deer, while a wolf would run into it. Coyotes also have pointy ears, and wolf ears are rounded. Wolves also have wider snouts.
"From a distance, it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between coyotes and wolves. Coyotes are much smaller, and wolves have extremely long legs. A coyote could run under a deer, while a wolf would run into it. Coyotes also have pointy ears, and wolf ears are rounded. Wolves also have wider snouts.
Cromley said he always carries a camera "just in case" and told the audience if they ever find tracks they should call the DNR immediately and give the exact location of the sighting.
"They have to know where the wolves are in order to protect them," he said.
He stressed that while the resurgence of the timber wolf is exciting, the connection to wolves of the past and those of the future remains a delicate.
"The future of the wolf population is up to you. How people react to the wolves, how much they learn about them, that will determine if the wolves have a chance in Michigan. That's part of the reason the Timber Wolf Alliance speaks to elementary school children. We want to impact the future, and also, we want children to go home and tell their parents what they've learned

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