U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
comeback kids -- er, pups?
Wolves are returning to the Upper Midwest, but not thanks to reintroductions. Credit the wolf's natural tendency to disperse into suitable habitat, and a little help from the Endangered Species Act and state wildlife agencies.
The resurgence began in northeast Minnesota, the only part of the lower 48 states where wolves lived in 1973. Minnesota now has about 2,000 timber wolves, a subspecies of the gray wolf. Wolves have spread to Michigan's Upper Peninsula and Isle Royale in Lake Superior, which now have more than 200 animals.
In neighboring Wisconsin, the population has risen from zip 25 years ago to about 250 today, says Adrian Wydevan, a wolf biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources. Wolf territories cover about 6 percent to 7 percent of the state, and the population is rising steadily toward the goal of roughly 350 to 550 animals (the exact goal has not been set yet). Wydevan says wolves have caused little trouble on Wisconsin farms, and ate only four calves in spring, 2000.
Although wolves prey on white-tail deer, they haven't affected the Wisconsin deer population, Wydevan says. "Deer populations continue to rise to a very high level," he says, that a few wolves won't affect. However, wolves may have local impacts, causing deer to be more wary and spread out across the landscape. Wolves do seem to be making inroads into the beaver population, however.
The natural migration of wolves into Michigan and Wisconsin -- and the absence of calls for their elimination -- reflects increased tolerance and sophistication among the public, Wydevan says. "People's attitudes are changing. They're accepting the idea that it's natural to see predators as well as prey species. It's less of a utilitarian attitude -- it's OK to have animals that don't serve a direct useful purpose to humans." While some illegal wolf killing continues, he says "the rate is low, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down the population growth."
The natural recovery of Midwestern wolves is echoed among some other showy critters in the United States. In 1999, the Fish & Wildlife Service has recommended that the bald eagle lose protection of the Endangered Species Act. Moose and the eastern cougar, or catamount, are now seen in Vermont, thanks partly to the return of farmland to forest. Mountain lions, or cougars -- like the wolf once a victim of extermination campaigns -- are on the rebound in the West. Unlike the wolf, however, they are dangerous. Since 1986, they've killed 10 people -- mainly children -- in Western states and British Columbia.
Shooting, trapping and poisoning nearly doomed gray wolves. What's whacking other rare species?
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