wildlife

Courtesy Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department

The Mancelona Middle School had a surprise visitor on Monday.

According to Michael Walton of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, around 9 a.m. a black bear lumbered onto school grounds.

The school’s principal, Chad Culver, was meeting with a teacher when he first spotted the bear.

"Literally out by the bike rack, which is about 20 feet from my window, was a black bear," Culver said

The bear prompted a 10-minute stay-in-place lockdown. Students were not allowed to leave the building. Shortly after the lockdown went into effect, the bear was spotted crossing U.S. 131 west of town.

Gray wolves.
USFWS / Flickr

The Natural Resources Commission has approved a wolf hunt for the Upper Peninsula. The panel heard from supporters and opponents before the vote.

State wildlife officials counted 658 wolves this winter. Officials hope to kill 43 wolves in the hunt.  

The hunt will take place in three separate zones in the Upper Peninsula beginning November 15, 2013.

The Gray Wolf until recently was listed as an endangered species by the federal government. The wolf population has grown dramatically in the last decade.

Some have complained that the increasing wolf population has led to an increase in attacks on livestock and pets in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Opponents of the wolf hunt claim it is not needed and that a hunt will not address problem wolves.

endangeredspecieslawandpolicy.com

Governor Rick Snyder has signed Senate Bill 288. That could clear the way for a wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.

His signature clears the way for the state's Natural Resources Commission to vote on a recommendation to hold a limited wolf hunt this fall in three parts of the UP.

The Governor told Michigan Radio's Lindsey Smith that he believes the NRC will base its decision on what he called "sound scientific principles."

"If you think about it, I think sound scientific principals are how we should decide these things, to make sure we are doing the proper environmental functions that protect whatever species we're talking about, so it's sustainable for the long term," said Snyder.

More than quarter of a million Michiganders  signed a petition asking to put a wolf hunt proposal on the November 2014 ballot. And the coalition called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected says Senate Bill 288 is a deliberate attempt by lawmakers to circumvent their petition effort.

The Governor's response?

Jeff Ford

We've got the nickname "The Wolverine State," and of course, the University of Michigan and the Wolverines are forever linked.

But the wolverine never called Michigan home.

The wolverine population in the United States is anything but big. An estimated 250-300 wolverines live in the lower 48 states.

One of the experts who devotes herself to protecting the wolverine is, in fact, a "Wolverine."

Bridget Fahey is a 1997 graduate of U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment.

These days, Fahey is the Endangered Species Chief with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the mountain prairie region.

She joined us today to talk about wolverines.

Listen to the full interview above.

University of Michigan

The Great Lakes are under a lot of stress. 

34 different kinds of stress, to be exact.

That’s according to a research team that has produced a comprehensive map showing many of the things that stress the Great Lakes.  Think: pollution, invasive species, development and climate change... just to name a few. 

user metassus / Flickr

Legislation that could allow a limited wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula cleared the state House Wednesday, and is on its way to Governor Rick Snyder.

The grey wolf was recently removed from the federal endangered species list.

State Representative Jeff Irwin is a Democrat from Ann Arbor. He was one of the “no” votes.

“This is an animal that just came off the endangered species list. The populations are not even healthy or even abundant, and I don’t think it’s the right time to talk about shooting wolves in northern Michigan,” Irwin said.

DNR confirms three recent cougar sightings in Upper Peninsula

Nov 28, 2012
Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The Department of Natural Resources has confirmed three recent cougar sightings in the Upper Peninsula.

Two photos of a cougar with a radio collar were taken in October in Menominee County, while a third photo was taken of a collarless cougar in November in Marquette County.

The DNR does not employ radio collars to track cougars, making the origin of the cat something of a mystery.

North Dakota and South Dakota are the nearest states that make use of collars to track cougars, and the animals are known to travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory.

Robert Sanders / Courtesy of Jill Witt

by Bob Allen for the Environment Report

Nearly a hundred years ago a small animal that most people have never heard of was wiped out of the northern forest. In the mid-1980’s, wildlife biologists reintroduced the pine marten in two locations in the Lower Peninsula. They thought the population would take off and spread but it hasn’t. And now researchers are trying to find out why.

The pine marten is the smallest predator in the northern forest. It’s a member of the weasel family… related to otters and ferrets. It weighs roughly two to two-and-a half pounds, has big furry ears, a pointed nose, a bright orange patch on its chest and a bit of a temper.

“I don’t know how big of an animal they would take on but they do have a reputation for being quite fierce.”

Jill Witt is a wildlife biologist with the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians. She has a marten caught in a wire cage tucked next to a fallen log, half buried in twigs and leaf litter.

Candy Peterson's song sheet
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

We've been posting radio pieces, videos, and blog posts all week as part of our series Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Researchers like Durwood Allen, and Michigan Tech's John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson have been keeping a close eye on the animals on the island for more than five decades.

Peterson has been doing it the longest. He's been watching and documenting things on Isle Royale for 42 years.

Moosewatch volunteers mark an antler
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Wolves and moose are at the heart of the world’s longest running study of a predator and its prey.  The drama unfolds on Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

But it’s a big island, almost entirely wilderness.

The researchers from Michigan Tech say they can’t cover all that ground alone. 

So they have a program called Moosewatch.  It’s a backcountry expedition where you pay to help out with the wolf-moose study.  But be warned: it’s no easy little walk in the woods.

"We’re going to trash through the understory here for a third to half of a mile and see if we can find some dead moose."

That’s Jeff Holden. He’s a Moosewatch group leader, in charge of a group of six (himself plus five volunteers).  We’re going to push our way into the thick forest.

Rolf Peterson driving boat
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

It's not as gross as it sounds. And if you heard yesterday's report from Rebecca Williams, it really does sound gross.

The wolf-moose research project on Michigan's Isle Royale National Park is in its 54th year.

A big chunk of their research goes into tracking down dead moose - bones and carcasses - around the island.

From these remains the researchers can pick apart the status and overall health of the moose population. And understanding moose is important to wolf research, since the wolves eat the moose.

It's like understanding the overall quality and quantity of food available at the grocery store. If there's good, abundant food available, you'd expect things to be good. If not, well - you get the picture.

When Rebecca Williams and I arrived at the Daisy Farm campground on Isle Royale, we were met by Rolf Peterson in his boat.

He said he'd just heard of a dead moose on Caribou Island and asked whether we would like to go see it with him.

A stroke of luck. We'd traveled by plane, car, and boat to get here, and here was our chance to see Peterson in action.

Here's a video of our trip with him. Is ripping the skull off a dead moose gross? I didn't think so, but you can be the judge.

So, what did you think? Vote by typing "gross" or "not gross" in the comment section below.

The Isle Royale Queen IV
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

For some, the magic of Isle Royale doesn't necessarily reside in the boat trip to the island.

Two days before Rebecca Williams and I left on our reporting trip, a friend and I were having lunch together.

"You're not riding on the 'Barf Barge' are you?!"

"The boat from Copper Harbor?"

"Yeah, I took that trip. We were on Isle Royale for a week. The first half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip over. And the second half of the week, all we could talk about was the boat trip back!"

On her trip, as the ship pulled out of Copper Harbor, the captain came on the loudspeaker.

"O.k., folks," the captain started. "We have the forecast for our crossing. And I just want to say... we're all in this together. We can get through this."

The snack bar was not open on that crossing.

But the snack bar was open for our trip.

The seas got a little rough (I saw a few eight footers roll by). And a trip to the restroom wasn't a straight walk to the door. You had to ping-pong yourself from table, to wall, to other passenger (excuse me), to the door.

Emergency cups and plastic grocery bags were deployed by some, but their "green-around-the-gills" condition didn't spread throughout the cabin.

The owners of the Isle Royale Line from Copper Harbor tell me the round-bottomed "Barf Barge" was retired in 2004. Their new boat, the Isle Royale Queen IV, rolls a lot less in heavy seas, and the new boat cut an hour off the trip.

What once took around four hours, now takes around three.

To get a sense of the crossing, I mounted a time lapse camera near the bridge. So here's the 54 mile crossing in less than two minutes.

Cell phones don't work on the island. Senses that can be overwhelmed by a connected, electric lifestyle are freed to look up, and take in the wind, waves, rock, and soil.

What makes the Isle Royale so special? We asked the Isle Royale Line's retired Captain Donald Kilpela that question:

Kilpela first made the trip to Isle Royale in 1945. And he and his family have been running the ferry service in Copper Harbor since 1971. His sons Ben and Don Jr. now run the boat. The family has been crossing Lake Superior to Isle Royale every summer since they started the business.

Two other people who know the island well have spent a good part of their lives here.

Rolf Peterson has been studying the interactions of wolves and moose on Isle Royale for more than 40 years. He and his wife Candy spend around eight months of each year on the island, and they raised their two kids on Isle Royale while living in the tiny Bangsund Cabin.

Isle Royale became a National Park in 1940, and was designated as a wilderness area in 1976. Humans are not in control here. It's an ideal laboratory for Peterson and the other researchers studying wolves and moose here.

Much of what scientists around the globe know about wolves and their behavior comes from Michigan's Isle Royale. The research project here is the longest running continuous study of any predator-prey system in the world.

All this week, we'll bring you stories about this research and about the people who make it happen - online and on-air.

You can find all the stories we produce on our series page Lessons from Isle Royale's Wolves and Moose.

Isle Royale is the least visited National Park, but as Captain Kilpela pointed out, it's the most re-visited one.

Many of you have had your own personal experiences with the island. We invite you to share your experiences about Isle Royale in the comment section below. In six words or less - tell us - what's so special about Isle Royale?

Ken Thomas / wikimedia commons

There's been a spate of black bear sightings in West Michigan over the past few days with at least one birdfeeder as a casualty.

Residents in Greenville, about 25 miles northeast of Grand Rapids, saw a bear wandering around a residential neighborhood and sightings have also been reported in nearby Lowell and Vergennes Township this week.

Wildlife authorities with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources don't know if it's the same bear being spotted, or more than one.

Bear sightings in general in many parts of the Lower Peninsula have become more common over the past few years.

Last year, the Environment Report's Rebecca Williams took a look at these southward-drifting bears and spoke to Adam Bump, a bear specialist with the MDNR:

[Bump] said a lot of the time, the bears are young males that get pushed out during the breeding season. They’ll head down looking for new territory.

“It’s not that we’re completely full up in the north – it can’t take one more bear – it’s just that we’re getting more taking the chance and moving south.”

He said bears like to travel along rivers and forested corridors and they appear to be finding good routes to travel...

Bump said some female bears appear to be moving south too. And some might be setting up camp... and having babies.

“We think we have an established population now as far down as Grand Rapids, possibly into Ionia County. We're getting more and more reports of bears in southern Michigan, even bears that are too young to have moved, so they had to have been produced in southern Michigan.”

This past February, Williams and producer Mark Brush got the chance to tag along with MDNR biologists in Oceana County as they tranquilized a black bear to replace a radio tracking collar.

Now that the warm weather is here, the collared bear is likely loping around in search of food.

You can see the bear in a deep sleep in the video below.

- John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

wikimedia commons

In terms of hotspots for giant, bipedal ape-men, Michigan might not come to mind, especially compared to states in the Pacific Northwest. But the mitten state is not without its share of alleged Bigfoot sightings.

According to the Detroit News, some high-profile Bigfoot hunters are paying visit to Michigan with camera crew in tow, hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive cryptid.

From the News:

Producers from the Animal Planet TV program "Finding Bigfoot" have been filming in the Houghton Lake area this week, looking for signs of Sasquatch.

Phil Shaw, a member of the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, said there have been more than 130 Bigfoot sightings in almost every county in Michigan.

The episode including the Michigan investigation is set to air sometime this summer, the Detroit News reports.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

flickr - caninest

In the last few years, illegal wolf kills in the Upper Peninsula have been going up as more sportsman become convinced that wolves are harming the deer population.

The antipathy toward wolves might change now that the species is no longer federally protected, but it also might change as more research is done on other predators in the UP.

Howard Meyerson of the Grand Rapid Press, reports on deer predation research being conducted in Michigan's Upper Peninsula by Mississippi State University students.

So far, the research is showing a somewhat surprising result: that coyotes are a top predator of fawns in parts of the western UP.

From the Grand Rapids Press:

...what researchers found this past winter, the third year of a western U.P. deer mortality study, is that coyotes were the No. 1 predator followed by bobcats. Wolves came in fourth after a three-way tie among hunters, unknown predators and undetermined causes.

“I was somewhat surprised to see coyotes play as large a role in fawn predation as they did...,” said Jerry Belant, an associate professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management at Mississippi State University.

Ansgar Walk / wikimedia commons

It may feel like it's already summer outside but that didn't stop a little piece of the arctic from visiting central Michigan.

After several days of sightings in and around  the town of Portland, just northwest of Lansing,  local authorities captured a loose arctic fox as he woke from a nap on a baseball diamond.

The fox's origin is unclear but aside from being about 1,000 miles south of its natural habitat, local law enforcement believes it must have been  a domesticated pet based on its friendly demeanor, the Lansing State Journal writes.

From the LSJ's Tom Thelen:

“We were receiving calls about it for about a week,” said Portland police chief Bob Bauer. “People were seeing at in various parts of the city...We believe that it either escaped or was turned loose,” said Bauer. “It was not afraid of anyone. In fact, it would coming running out to people and some of them were scared by the way it ran up to them.”

Thelen reports that authorities found an owner of another arctic fox in nearby Lake Odessa who agreed to care for the captured animal.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

Rebecca Williams and I recently tagged along with biologists from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to watch them tranquilize and re-collar an 11-year-old black bear in Oceana County.

The bear is one of many bears researchers are watching as part of the Southern Michigan Bear Habitat Use and Movements study.

Here's the video we made from that trip:

Michigan's archery season began this morning.
Charles Dawley / flickr

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan's new hunting program for children will start this year, with licenses on sale starting March 1.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources announced Friday that the Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved the program aimed at introducing children under the age of 10 to hunting and fishing.

It's called the Mentored Youth Hunting program.

A recent law eliminated the minimum hunting age, allowing kids under 10 to hunt with an adult who's at least 21 years old. Under the rules for the new youth program, the adult must have previous hunting experience and possess a valid Michigan hunting license.

A Mentored Youth Hunting license will cost $7.50. Details about hunting rules are posted on the DNR's website.

user metassus / Flickr

As of last Friday, wolves in Michigan are no longer a federally protected “endangered species.”

On December 21, 2011 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced in Washington that Gray wolf populations in the Western Great Lakes states of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin have exceeded recovery goals and are stable enough to be removed from the Endangered Species List.

The current populations in each state are:

Pat Gaines / wikimedia commons

Snowy owls typically live in the northern reaches of the arctic tundra.

Living year round in the arctic shows how tough these birds are.

But this year they've been traveling south in search of food.

The owls have been spotted in states such as Massachusetts, Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

To see where they've been spotted in Michigan, click on the slides above for a Google Map.

So why are they flying down here?

Biologists think the growth in Snowy owl sightings around the U.S. is due to a drop in the owl's main prey in the Arctic - lemmings. Lemmings go through boom and bust periods, and right now, lemming numbers are probably down, so the owls are scrounging around here for rodents, rabbits, fish, or any other suitable food source.

Similar cycles occur with other birds of prey.

The Great Gray owl, which normally keeps to northern Canada forests, has been known to fly south when its food is in short supply.

Reporter David Sommerstein produced a story on Great Gray sightings in a piece he did for the Environment Report back in 2005.

It was a year the owls were flying south and was one of the biggest Great Gray owl migrations on record.

Take a listen to a "Rare Visit from a Northern Neighbor" - the audio file below.

I love hearing ornithologist Gerry Smith's reaction when he spots the "first Great Gray owl that's made it across the border."

"I'll be a son-of-a-gun. That is so... bler... I am now VERY enthusiastic! Hey! .... I'm going to get my scope..."

And while you're out, keep your eye's peeled for rare visit from another northern neighbor - the Snowy owl.

Here's one spotted in 2005 in Wisconsin:

We all should be so lucky.

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