Tery Spivey, USDA Forest Service, bugwood.org
A few theories to why the wolf population has dwindled are: low populations of female wolves, inbreeding, heavy infestations of ticks on moose (the wolves’ prey).
The population of wolves on Isle Royale is mainly male. There are just a couple of adult females and very few being born. If more females were available a few of the male wolves could start their own pack. Because the Isle Royale wolves are so remote there is a lot of inbreeding happening. In the 1990’s a wolf from Canada came to Isle Royale and sired offspring. This helped, but not enough. The idea of bringing in new wolves to increase the genetic diversity of the population has been considered by Rolf Peterson, a long-time researcher of the Isle Royale wolf population.
The moose on Isle Royale are suffering from a higher mortality rate and a lower reproduction rate because of a heavy infestation of ticks. The lack of prey may be causing the lower birth rate or answer the question of how the number of packs went from four to one.
With all of this being said, the USFWS has just removed the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list. The DNR is now in charge of managing the wolf populations. According to their numbers, throughout the state, the wolf population at the end of 2011 was 687, claiming that there are 131 wolf packs in the U.P. alone.
De-listing wolves from the federal endangered species act would allow the people of Michigan to kill wolves that threaten cattle, dogs, and other domestic animals. However, the threat has to be “immediate” and a person can’t target a wolf just because it was seen near animals in pastures or yards.
On January 27th wolves were de-listed from the federal endangered species act. Can we manage the population? Or will this make the gray wolf a game animal in the future?