Michigans Wolf Economics by James L. Bruner
Honestly I dont understand it beyond a point that in the end we lose a major resource and that being the whitetail deer. I do understand that authoriative figures project a carrying capacity for how many wolves we can sustain in the Upper Peninsula. I also understand that they have some sort of pre-determined consensus that in time we will more than likely need to deplete the wolf numbers. Now lets take into consideration the method of determination. Counting.
The figures have been tossed about that each wolf will consume between 20 and 40 deer per year. Wondering where the number 40 came from? Regional director heading the wolf study project from Marquette. You do the research as I agreed not to quote or use names during our conversation. So here we have a somewhat defined number of species consumption for each wolf. That number may bode well as a figure on paper but only if the number of wolves is figuratively correct or moderately close. Back to counting.
The method of counting wolves typically derives from pack size and growth. The days when the DNR actually knew how many wolves we had are long gone. Back then they were so few, as far as they knew, that they had many of them collared. Today it’s not uncommon to hear that someone has shot a wolf and there is little to no evidence left behind other than a carcass. And those are only the ones that have been found. Now I understand that they cannot be out there protecting each and every wolf but it does tell me that they have relatively little of an idea where these animals roam and thats to be expected. If in fact these boundaries and numbers are this sketchy it must be difficult at best to render a number of total animals. Case in point: The DNR worked off reported wolf sightings in the upper portion of lower Michigan to authorize a 20 man team and a full weekend to look for wolf sign in order to establish whether or not a wolf migrated across the ice. They detected that two grey wolves had indeed made the journey. This may seem to contradict the fact that I say the DNR have very little idea of wolf numbers and boundaries. I say why all the fuss? You can report a cougar in your backyard and be lucky if someone comes out to investigate. We have a documented thriving wolf population and a failing deer herd. Public response is in favor of strengthening the herd. Not the pack.
Now dont get me wrong here. I am not anti-wolf. I’ve seen them here and realize they have their place in the food chain. What I dont understand is why so much resource and interest is entailed in a species that could in time deflate a major economic source and sport such as deer hunting. It’s happening now. Right now. Our deer hunt of 2004 was grim. The hunt of 2005 was no better and in many cases worse for plenty of hunters. Thats speaking in terms of harvest numbers and not just economics but common sense tells you the two go hand in hand.
The retort I hear for the waning deer herd always seems to come back to deforestation. It’s a given that a change in structure will create a reaction. Back to physics. For each action you have a re-action but, deforestation does not necessarily kill the deer as much as it makes them adapt. If the authorities believe the problems lies within deforestation then they have to change their model of business. Look. You can build a home right in the smack dab center of prime deer territory and what happens. The deer either adapt or vacate. They do not die as an immediate results unless of course a tree drops on them. Funny?
Forestry is said to be designed around nature. You cut certain sections of property and either replant or let the area succumb to new growth. You quadrant these cuttings to avoid major overlapping or creating extensive voids whenever possible. When the canopy is broken down, especially in older growth forest, you allow penetration of light. This in turn generates a germination response of legumes which are preferable for deer browse. The forest that has been cut may no longer offer the cover once used by the deer but it now provides a very beneficial food source. And as such the deer typically adapt. Yet the culprit here is the supposed deforestation.
Consider this. Forestry is a booming industry in this portion of Michigan. It has always grown to demands and you can expect those demands to increase. If this is the case, and their theory is correct regarding deforestation, then our deer herd is doomed.
On the other hand the decrease in deer harvest numbers directly correlate with a noted increase in wolf numbers. I do not believe the fault lies entirely on wolves. I believe it is more than likley a combination of circumstances which also include an increase in black bear numbers resulting in lowered mortality rates for fawning. I have also seen many small deer, not thin or weakened, small as in fawns, during the early to mid-winter months. I would not expect these particular deer to survive. As such we have other predators like the coyote and although the wolf and coyote are not aquaintances they do reside in the same forest regardless of what you may have heard. Numerous times I have found both sets of tracks on the same trail or back road and we do have a large population of coyotes.
I posed this question directly for the director of the wolf program and spoke only of the area I am familiar with. I asked if it were possible for a wolf pack to decimate a herd of deer in any given area. Quick to answer was NO. In part he said that wolves would not stick around as they prefer to search for food. Now lets get one thing straight from the beginning. No animal, deer, bear, wolf, coyote, whatever, is going to deplete it’s own reserves by walking away from a meal and search for food. So I asked the same question again. Is it possible for a wolf pack to decimate a herd of deer? Answer changed. It is possible they would decrease the numbers but the birthing rate would accomodate the loss.
Now I could see that statement with a lot of positive light if in fact the pack were utilizing a large hunting area but I was speaking of a generalized local population of deer. Given the fact that there are 5 wolves minimum in this pack you are talking a minimum loss of 100 deer per year. To me that is a substantial number to recoup if in fact the wolves were residing in a relatively small area as opposed to their typical behavior. Again, why stray away if the food is right there. One last time with a touch of emphasis. Could a wolf pack decimate a deer herd in a relatively generalized area? Answer: They could but it’s very unlikely.
Current numbers are reported of at least 400 wolves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. That number comes straight from the DNR while other reports estimate as high as 500 wolves. Even if you were to choose the middle road of the two numbers and use the equation of 20 deer per wolf that still makes 9000 deer per year as an estimated loss through wolf predation.
Harvest information through hunting estimated a total of 243,000 deer taken for the 2005 hunting season. The estimate of the number of hunters for the year was 700,000 statewide. As mentioned previously there was a decline in numbers from the year 2004 in which 265,000 deer were harvested statewide. The Upper Peninsula harvested 30,000 of that number of deer down from the previous year of 34,000 which was said to be caused from a low birthing rate. Final numbers will be reported this July.
Nowhere in those figures will you ever be able to say well yes there was 4,000 less deer taken because the wolves killed twice that many which left less for breeding and birthing. Keep in mind that the wolf figures only deal with the Upper Peninsula at this moment which is helpful when looking at the segregated numbers from the statewide portion and the Upper Peninsula portion of those figures.
Personally I dont see a major incline anytime soon and I would suggest again that we will see an even lower harvest rate in 2006. I do believe in those figures we will need to aggregate a drop in hunter numbers also as the general feedback is people will look to hunt elsewhere after two years of slow hunting here in the Upper Peninsula. I also see a major problem down the road that has not been mentioned which would be a population boom. At some point the population of wolves will advance in very large numbers due to the number of breeding pairs which are constantly growing. I would think at that point there would need to be a season opened for the hunting of wolves which may just be the cash cow needed to regenerate the loss in deer hunting revenue. What would you pay to legally hunt a wolf?