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Wolves in the Wild

Posted on August 5th, 2010

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I was up north, researching trails in Antrim County for www.michigantrailmaps.com, when the press release arrived in my inbox. The tag line was intriguing:

Wolf Pup Captured and Released in the Northern Lower Peninsula

The release was fascinating:

“A USDA Wildlife Services employee was recently successful in capturing and releasing a wolf pup in Cheboygan County. This occurred during an effort to trap and place a radio-collar on a wolf following the verification of a wolf pack in the northern Lower Peninsula earlier this year.”

And the attached photo seemed to take forever to download. The wifi spot I was using was crawling and the photo came in one bar at a time at an agonizingly slow pace. But finally there it was, on the screen of my laptop, the first documented wolf pup to be born in the Lower Peninsula in almost a century.

“This is the first evidence of wolf breeding in the Lower Peninsula since the population was extirpated in the early 1900s,” said Jennifer Kleitch, wildlife biologist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment,. “It indicates that we have at least one breeding pair in the region and the potential for a growing population.”

Wolves in the Lower Peninsula, not even that far from where I was hiking. A pack of wolves that is growing and, no doubt, expanding its territory.

The wild has returned to the Lower Peninsula.

I have never seen a wolf in Michigan despite my extensive time spent at Isle Royale. As author of Isle Royale National Park: Foot Trails & Water Routes, I have spent months in the backcountry of the Lake Superior island and yet the closest I ever came to wolves was listening to them howl one night while camping at Feldtmann Lake.

But that’s all it takes – spotting their tracks in a swamp, seeing the bleached bone remains of a winter kill or listening to a pair call out to each other – to make you realize that you’re not alone. You’re simply a visitor in somebody else’s home.

I don’t even need to see evidence of their arrival in the Lower Peninsula, much less the wolves themselves. Knowing they are out there, somewhere in the woods, is enough to instill a sense of wilderness in the places I hike for a day or longer with a backpack. Just seeing the signs at many of the trailheads in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore that announce “You Are A Visitor In Cougar Habitat” adds a quality to an area you can’t find in Peoria, Iowa or Southeast Michigan for that matter.

Wolf pup

Michigan's newest wolf pup

In the end, that’s all I need. If I encounter a wolf in the wild, and I have twice in Alaska, or a black bear which I have several times in Michigan, it’s always an unexpected occurrence and one of those moments that leaves you both nervous and excited. A moment you rarely forget.

But what’s really important to me is the notion that they’re there, that the land is rugged and wild enough for bears, cougars and wolves to survive, even prosper. That the places where I go to escape the trappings of civilization are as primitive and pure today as they were a century ago when wolves freely roamed across Michigan. Across all of it.

“The 23-pound male pup was in good health. An identification tag was placed in the ear and the pup was released on-site unharmed.”

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