Muskegon, Mich. — An Upper Peninsula lawmaker believes the Department of Natural Resources has a “responsibility” to re-establish gray wolves in the Lower Peninsula.
Republican Rep. Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock), introduced a resolution last month calling for the DNR to use a portion of the Upper Peninsula’s abundant wolf population to re-establish a self-sustaining population below the bridge, along with House Bill 4102 to make it happen.
“I thought if we expand their range, it might take some heat off the U.P.,” Markkanen told Michigan Outdoor News. “There’s a chronic wasting disease issue in the Lower Peninsula. Some areas are overpopulated with deer. Introducing the gray wolf would be a natural solution to a lot of that.”
Markkanen insists it is a “serious proposal” that deserves serious consideration.
“If we’re going to start expanding ranges for at risk populations like the gray wolf, lower Michigan had a viable population at one time,” he said. “I feel it’s the DNR’s responsibility to move to the Lower Peninsula, at least the northern Lower, and repopulate that.”
Markkanen cited the DNR’s success with re-establishing viable populations of elk, turkey, and other species as a template for wolves.
“Everything has come back, so why not the gray wolf?” he said.
The most recent DNR estimate of the minimum Upper Peninsula wolf population, conducted in early 2022, is 631 wolves, plus or minus 49. DNR officials estimate there are 136 packs with an average number of individuals per pack calculated at 4.5.
“Our minimum wolf population estimate is not statistically different from the last estimate in 2020,” DNR Large Carnivore Specialist Cody Norton said in January. “All of the estimates since 2011 have not differed statistically.”
Markkanen said that the population estimate is a minimum, and DNR officials have acknowledged that wolf numbers are likely higher during the spring and summer.
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Markkanen said “there’s people who feel very strongly” in support of moving wolves into the Lower Peninsula, but acknowledged that “most of the feedback” he’s received on the bill “is from the northern Lower to keep the wolf problem in the U.P.”
“I think if we disperse the population … it’s going to help some of the areas in the U.P. that are too populated,” he said.
DNR spokesman Ed Golder told Michigan Outdoor News the department “has not yet taken a position on HB 4102.”
“It has been the practice of the department to neither facilitate nor hinder the movement of wolves within the state,” he said.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs Executive Director Amy Trotter said relocating wolves to the Lower Peninsula is an issue that’s been proposed before, but MUCC believes there are more important priorities to address.
“We certainly understand the intent and frustration the U.P. residents have,” she said. “I certainly would not support the use of fish and game funds (to facilitate the move). There’s other priorities when it comes to fish and wildlife.
“It’s an issue of monetary resources in my opinion,” Trotter said. “There’s hundreds of other things we should be working on.”
Trotter said MUCC has never taken a position on relocating wolves below the bridge and isn’t officially opposed to the bill. She noted, however, it’s unlikely to gain traction in the current legislature.
“The partisan nature of Lansing these days suggests (HB 4102) won’t get a hearing,” she said.
HCR 2, the resolution calling for relocation, and HB 4102 both were referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources, Environment, Tourism, and Outdoor Recreation.