With the end of Michigan's first wolf hunting season on December 31, Department of Natural Resources wildlife biologists began receiving many questions about what the harvest results meant, primarily "was the season successful?" and "how will the results shape future seasons?"
Preliminary results based on harvest locations of the 23 total wolves taken by hunters indicate that the hunt's primary goal of targeting wolf packs with a history of conflict appears to have been successfully met.
By mapping harvest location data in comparison to the locations of verified wolf depredations on livestock or dogs, wildlife biologists found that the average distance of harvest from a conflict site was less than 5 miles - a short distance, considering wolves regularly travel more than 10-20 miles per day.
Harvest data also show that 77 percent of the wolves were taken from the territories of packs with a history of conflict (established pack territories are monitored and mapped by DNR biologists through a combination of air and on-the-ground surveys and location data from collared animals).
Considering the wolf hunting units were designed to target specific areas with persistent wolf conflict, these initial results are not surprising. But harvest data is only the beginning of the information biologists will carefully consider when determining if the hunt successfully met management goals. Other steps wildlife biologists will take while researching the effectiveness of the wolf hunt include:
Closely monitoring wolf depredation and conflict reports from the hunt units over the coming years to identify any long-term trends or changes in wolf behavior.
Completing a wolf population survey in Winter 2014, which will provide an updated overall wolf population estimate while also shedding light on whether wolf density in the hunt units was impacted by the harvest.
Analyzing the results of the wolf hunter survey, which was mailed to all wolf license holders in early January. Survey questions about hunter effort and satisfaction, usage of hunting guides, selection of hunting areas, and hunting methods used, will give biologists a better picture of what hunters experienced in the field and what their ultimate impressions of the season were.
Examining biological data (teeth and female reproductive organs) collected at wolf registration stations to learn more about the health of the wolf population.
Once all of the available data is collected and analyzed, wildlife biologists on the wolf management team will present their findings and proposals relative to future hunting seasons to the Natural Resources Commission for consideration, most likely in mid-to-late spring.
To stay updated on wolf management issues in Michigan, visit our website at michigan.gov/wolves.
Additional items of interest for February:
The 20th annual winter Free Fishing Weekend is Feb. 15-16. Anglers (both residents and non-residents) may fish without first purchasing a license, but all other rules and regulations must be followed. Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor will host its annual Lake Fanny Hooe Ice Fishing Tournament on Saturday, Feb. 15, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. For a list of other Free Fishing Weekend events, visit www.michigan.gov/freefishing.
Licenses for the 2014 seasons can be purchased beginning March 1 (2013 licenses are good through April 1). The 2014 season brings changes to the license system structure and fees. For full details visit www.michigan.gov/dnr and click on "hunting and fishing license structure" under the In the Know section.
Every Saturday in February, Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park will host a guided snowshoe hike at 1 p.m. and a lantern-lit ski/snowshoe at 6:30 p.m. Participants should meet at the Ski Hill Chalet. For additional details visit www.michigan.gov/porkies.
Bobcat and squirrel hunting; fox hunting and trapping; and badger, muskrat, mink and coyote trapping all close on March 1. Mandatory bobcat registration deadlines are Feb. 11 (trapping) and March 11 (hunting).
Debbie Munson Badini is the DNR's Deputy Public Information Officer. Have suggestions for future column topics or questions about natural resource management in the UP? Contact her by phone at 906-226-1352, via email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @MichiganDNR_UP.