Butterflies And Snakes May Benefit As Michigan’s Gray Wolves Fend For Themselves, Federal Protection Lifted

An estimated 687 wolves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula will soon be on their own, after the species was removed from the federal endangered species status Wednesday.

That action to affect wolves in the Upper Peninsula will have a ripple effect that can benefit rare species here in Southwest Michigan, such as the Karner blue and Mitchell’s satyr butterflies and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, found in Allegan, Barry and Kalamazoo counties, said Russ Mason, chief of the wildlife division for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The change in status of wolves frees up state wildlife biologists to end the ” inordinate amount of time spent on wolves, surveying them, collaring them, picking them up as road kill,” Mason said. “By continuing to devote resources to a species that doesn’t need protection, others that need protection, that really need it it, we didn’t have the resources to do it.”

Now wolves will become part of a regular wildlife management plan, he said, and those dollars can go somewhere else.

“This is a great victory for the state of Michigan, and long overdue,” Mason said. “The recovery goal was for 100 (wolves), and we have about 680 — and we have been at that number for over a decade,” he said.

In the wings

Any extra resources for other projects will be welcome, said Nate Fuller, conservation and stewardship director of the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.

“Finding funding for management of Michigan’s natural areas is always challenging,” Fuller said. ” While most natural areas managers prefer to manage for habitat in general rather than a specific species, grant support is often allocated towards certain animals.”

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy recently teamed up with the Michigan DNR, The Nature Conservancy, and Michigan Natural Features Inventory to use more than $850,000 in federal grant dollars to improve southern Michigan’s fen and savanna habitats with a focus on Mitchell’s satyr butterflies and eastern massasauga rattlesnakes.

“We had a great satisfying moment this summer when one of the staff we were able to hire with the grant support came across a baby massasauga in the midst of a restoration site,” Fuller said. ” Finding a baby snake counts as three – since it takes two to make more. And more importantly, breeding rattlesnakes are good indicators of high quality wetlands which do so much for Michigan’s water.”

Southern Michigan is the stronghold for eastern massasauga populations, endangered in every state outside of Michigan. The quality of the habitats that these species depend on has really declined, Fuller said.

“Mitchell’s satyrs are a federally endangered butterfly and exist in fewer than 20 places in the world, over half of which occur in southwest Michigan,” Fuller said.

In addition to those rare species, workers identified about 40 additional animals recognized as “Species of Greatest Conservation Need” on the restoration sites, Fuller said.

Next for wolves

The federal delisting rule removing wolves from the endangered species list will be published in the Federal Register Wednesday, Dec. 28, and will take effect Friday, Jan. 27, 30 days after its publication.

Once wolves are removed from the endangered species list, the DNR will continue to recommend nonlethal methods of control first, such as flashing lights, flagging and noisemakers, Mason said. “But it turns out wolves are smart,” he said. ” Wolves get past lights and sirens pretty quickly. Now, if nonlethal control doesn’t work, we can take out a problem wolf.”

Mason said hunters or pet owners whose dogs are under attack will be able to protect their animals. “Now they don’t have to stand and watch a wolf tear a dog up. Now we have the complete set of tools.” Farmers, too, can defend their livestock if wolves prey on them, he said.

“People should care about that.”

Wednesday’s announcement could even open the door to hunting for wolves in the Great Lakes.

However, no seasons have been set and federal officials say they will continue monitoring the population for five years. Similar actions are planned for most remaining Western states and the Great Plains.

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