Wolf recovery in the great lakes region: What have we learned and where will we go now?

Adrian P. Wydeven, Timothy R. Van Deelen, Edward J. Heske

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


When we originally wrote this chapter in July 2008, gray wolves had been off the federal list of endangered species in the western Great Lakes region of the USA for 16 months. As Ron Refsnider indicated in Chap. 20, several animal welfare organizations challenged federal delisting after delisting was completed on March 12, 2007. On September 29, 2008, a federal district judge in Washington, DC vacated the delisting, and wolves in Minnesota returned to the threatened list and wolves in the remainder of the Western Great Lakes region returned to endangered status. The judge did not indicate that wolves had not recovered in the region but questioned the use of Distinct Population Segments for designating the delisting. We expect these technicalities of the Endangered Species Act to be resolved over the next few years, and feel that biological recovery of this population has occurred in this region. While some, including some of the authors in this volume, might argue that the federal government was premature in delisting gray wolves in this region, it is obvious to all that wolf numbers have increased drastically and the population has spread extensively across forested areas of the three states of the Great Lakes region. That this expansion provides rationale for federal delisting may be debatable, but few could argue that this is not a tremendous recovery for wolves in the region. Winter counts for Michigan and Wisconsin in 2008 were similar to those in 2007, with about 520 (95% CI ± 144) wolves in Michigan (Dean Beyer, personal communication) and 537 564 in Wisconsin. This compares to estimates of 509 (95% CI ± 36) in Michigan and 540 577 in Wisconsin in 2007, suggesting that wolf populations have remained similar for both states during the last 2 years. Slowing growth rates were predicted by Van Deelen (Chap. 9, this volume), and Mladenoff et al. (Chap. 8, this volume) posited increasing saturation of most suitable habitat as a mechanism. In Minnesota, the wolf population in winter 2007 2008 was estimated at 2921 wolves, similar to numbers from the last survey in 2003 2004, and range expansion seems to have ceased since 1998 (J.Erb, personal communication ). The only large block of wildland without wolves in the three-state area is the northern portions of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan (Gehring and Potter 2005 ; Mladenoff et al., this volume). By 2008, the three Great Lakes states contained roughly 4,000 wolves, more than one-half of recent wolf numbers in Alaska (~7,000 wolves), yet occupying an area of only about 10% of the Alaskan wolf range (Stephenson et al. 1995 ; Boitani 2003). Wolf numbers for the Great Lakes states were similar to wolf numbers in Canadian provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, and were exceeded in Europe only by Russia (Boitani 2003). Alaska and the Canadian provinces sustainably manage wolves as game species (Boitani 2003).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRecovery of Gray Wolves in the Great Lakes Region of the United States
Subtitle of host publicationAn Endangered Species Success Story
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9780387859514
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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