January 29, 2023

Do Wolves Reduce Deer Numbers Or Don't They?

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I generally enjoy reading Eric Sharp’s articles in the Detroit Free Press. Today he has an article about the Feds de-listing the gray wolf and what impact that will have on Michigan, particularly farmers and hunters. Eric makes a statement that I find puzzling and makes me tend to think maybe he didn’t mean to say what he said or I’m reading it wrong. Here’s what he said.

Although wolves can make a dent in a local deer population, I’m amused by hunters who want to blame them for lower deer numbers across the UP. A Canadian study found that an adult wolf eats 15-17 deer a year. Lederle thinks that’s an underestimate and figures that wolves in the UP each eat about 40 whitetails.That means wolves take about 20,000 deer each year out of a herd estimated at about 350,000. Hunters in the UP kill about 40,000 deer, and vehicles kill another 6,000-7,000.

I think what he may have meant to say was he is amused that hunters want to blame their lack of success on wolves. If the figures that Eric uses are correct, then wolves do in fact reduce deer populations. He says they do. He cites a Canadian study that says wolves eat 15-17 deer a year. He even repeats what Pat Lederle, Michigan Department of Natural Resource’s wolf manager says that his estimates place wolf kills of deer at 40 a year.

General consensus places the wolf population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula at 450. At 15-17 deer a year, that equates to around 7,200 dead deer. At the upper estimates, it’s around 18,000. Sharp says Michigan’s deer population is around 350,000, not all of which is located in the Upper Peninsula I would assume. He states hunters in the UP kill 40,000 deer a year.

Whether you want to estimate the deer kill by wolves at 7,200 or 18,000 it is technically a reduction. Disturbing though is that if we use the upper estimates of 18,000 deer a year killed by 450 wolves, how long before wolves kill more deer than hunters?

If all things remained relevant and wolves continued to grow at a yearly estimate of 15% per year (some estimates put that at 20%), it would take about 6 years or less for the wolf population to double. Now before you go getting red, I realize that according to wildlife biologists’ information that wolf populations should in theory stabilize at some point. What that point is I don’t know and I’m not sure they know for sure either.

My point is, that if in 6 years the wolf population should double, logic would tell us that deer kills in the UP by wolves would jump to around 36,000, nearly the same as hunters. If that held true, one could only assume that the hunter kill numbers of 40,000 would probably fall like a rock.

Michigan protects the wolf. Even though the U.S. Department of the Interior has removed the wolf from the Endangered Species list, the state is opting to leave the animal protected. There will be no game hunting of the wolf and no predator status. I wonder at what point the MDNR would change that status and opt for game hunting, if ever?

Wolves do reduce deer populations. How much they reduce it is estimated by those who claim to have the data to support their assumptions. I am not in a position to rebut that. I do agree with Sharp’s assertion that wolves make deer warier and changes their habits meaning hunters need to change theirs. I don’t think he meant wolves don’t reduce deer populations. They just make it more difficult for hunters to find them.

Tom Remington