Illegal Wolf Kills Spiking in Michigan’s UP

  • Some hunters in Michigan's upper peninsula say the wolves' "sacred cow" status is causing more animosity toward the animals. (Photo courtesy of

No other wildlife species, it seems, causes such extremes of emotion as the wolf.

Some people want to protect it at any cost.

Others want to shoot the animal on sight.

And in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula illegal wolf kills are spiking.

Wildlife officials say they can defuse the situation if they can just get gray wolves removed from the endangered species list.

Bob Allen reports.

More about the history of wolves in Michigan

More about removing Michigan wolves (included in the western GL wolf population) from the Endangered Species List

Michigan’s Wolf Management Plan

More on Michigan’s Isle Royale Wolves (the longest study of any predator-prey system in the world)


The return of gray wolves to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula more than twenty years ago was not cause for alarm, at first.
But that’s changed drastically in the last few years as more sportsmen are convinced wolves are now decimating the white tail deer population.

Larry Livermore manages the 35,000 acre Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club, about an hour’s drive west of the Mackinaw Bridge.

LIVERMORE: “There was no hatred of wolves until people created the hatred by not allowing them to be managed.”

As long as the wolf is under federal protection it can only be killed if it’s causing imminent threat to human life.
The wolf population in Michigan is more than six times the goal set for them under the Endangered Species Act.

And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now trying for the fourth time to remove gray wolves from the protected list in the Upper Great Lakes states.
So far, national wildlife protection groups have managed to block those efforts in federal court.

The groups contend wolves still need to expand into northeastern states before protections are removed.
Larry Livermore says while all this legal wrangling is going on members at the eighty year old Hiawatha Club are giving up their memberships and selling their places because the deer hunting has become pathetic.

LIVERMORE: “You have a whole bunch of honest law abiding citizens who have finally had enough and say, you don’t care about us, you don’t understand our dilemma here and so we will take it into our own hands. And that’s happening here. People who I never dreamed would say I would shoot a wolf are telling me that they will shoot one.”

There was a spike in illegal wolf kills in the U.P. last year.
Wildlife officials found fifteen collared wolves shot out of an overall population pushing near 700.
And the Department says poaching is on the upswing again this year too.

But Brian Roell is not alarmed about it.
He is the go-to wolf guy for the DNR in Marquette.
He says illegal kills are not reducing the overall population.

And Roell says once federal protection is gone people will stop feeling like the wolf is being treated as a “sacred cow”.

ROELL: “Being able to empower people to actually take some control back is going to go a long way in helping people come to live with wolves.”

DNR officials have a management plan ready to go once the wolf is delisted.
The plan would give people the authority to defend against attacks on their pets and livestock.
And it would allow them to cull wolves in places where they’re putting a lot of pressure on deer.

But some sportsmen’s groups want to go further than that.
They want the state to open a hunting season on them.
Sportsmen say if wolves are treated more like bears with limited harvests then the animals will have some value to people.

But Nancy Warren thinks the top predator has its own value in the natural order of things.
In the summertime, she takes visitors out at night to howl with wolves on her property in the western U.P.
She says the number of deer killed by wolves and reported threats to humans are being exaggerated.
But she agrees the state ought to be able to manage problem wolves.

WARREN: “Let people see that the state is able to manage these wolves. And we could get rid of some of these myths and the misinformation and see that, yeah, we can live with wolves.”

Warren fears a return to the bad old days when wolves were considered varmints and poisoned or shot on sight.

But Brian Roell with the DNR doesn’t see wholesale slaughter of wolves coming back into play.
Because once the wolf comes off the endangered species list, he says, no one is going to want to risk having to put it back on again.

Anglers Competing With Cormorants

  • The cormorant population is booming in the region, and some anglers say they're competing too hard with the birds for fish. (Photo courtesy of Steve Mortensen, Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe)

Anglers around the Great Lakes are eager for a summer of fishing. Everyone wants to catch the big one. But they’re getting some competition. It comes in the form of the double-crested cormorant. The big black birds with long necks are fish eaters. Cormorants were nearly wiped out by the now-banned pesticide, DDT, in the 1970’s. But now cormorants are back in big numbers. Some anglers feel there are too many cormorants now. And they say the birds are eating too many fish. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports on one experimental effort to control cormorants:


Anglers around the Great Lakes are eager for a summer of fishing. Everyone wants to
catch the big one, but they’re getting some competition. It comes in the form of the
double-crested cormorant. The big black birds with long necks are fish eaters.
Cormorants were nearly wiped out by the now-banned pesticide, DDT, in the 1970’s. But
now cormorants are back in big numbers. Some anglers feel there are too many
cormorants now, and they say the birds are eating too many fish. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports on one experimental effort to control

(sound of waves)

Robin Whaley often fishes here on Knife River. It’s the biggest spawning ground for
rainbow trout on the north shore of Lake Superior. But today she’s watching the
cormorants on Knife Island, a quarter-mile offshore.

The cormorant population is booming. About a hundred cormorants lived on the island
last year.

“I guess they’re just coming up into this area in the last few years and becoming a
problem, for degrading habitat and for eating little fish.”

Cormorants are native to this area, but they haven’t been around much in the last few
decades, because of poisoning from the pesticide DDT.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stocks rainbow trout here. This year
they put 40,000 young fish into the river. Anglers like Robin Whaley hope the little fish
will grow big enough for them to catch someday.

The little fish face a lot of predators and hazards and the cormorants are one more threat.
Some people would like to reduce that threat. It’s illegal to kill cormorants. They’re
protected by law because they’re a migratory bird.

But a new federal rule says if they’re threatening a resource, people can fight back in a
different way.

Bill Paul runs the Agriculture Department’s Wildlife Services Program in Minnesota. He
sent workers onto Knife Island to try to keep the cormorants from nesting. Their methods
are experimental – but they’re pretty basic.

“We put up some flapping tarps in wind, a couple of yellow raincoat scarecrows, we also
put up ten flashing highway barricade lights, we also have a light siren device out there
that goes during the night.”

The workers also used special firecrackers shot by guns at passing birds to scare them

They did this for two weeks during the cormorants’ nesting season. Bill Paul says even
with all that noise and commotion it wasn’t easy to scare them away.

“They seem to be fairly smart birds and real persistent at coming back to Knife Island.
So we’re uncertain yet whether our activities are actually going to keep them off there

As part of their study, researchers had permission to kill 25 cormorants to find out what
they’d been eating. They wanted to see how much of a threat the birds were to game fish
like the rainbow trout.

They found fish in the cormorants’ stomachs all right. But not the kind most people like
to catch and eat.

Don Schreiner supervises the Lake Superior fishery for the Minnesota DNR. He says
he’d need more than just a few samples to really know what the birds are eating.

“My guess is that cormorants are opportunists and if there’s a small silver fish out there
and he’s just hanging out and the cormorant has that available to eat, he’ll eat it. The
question becomes, is this a significant part of the population that they’re consuming, or
isn’t it?”

Despite the concerns of some anglers, researchers have been studying cormorants for
years, and so far they haven’t been able to prove the birds are harming wild fish

John Pastor is an ecologist at the University of Minnesota Duluth. He says the study at
Knife River won’t prove anything useful either.

He says it ignores the bigger picture. Pastor says you can’t just look at one predator and
come to any firm conclusions. There could be lots of reasons why there aren’t many
steelhead, or rainbow trout.

“Changes in land use. All the adult steelhead out there eating the young of the year
steelhead. Maybe it’s some pollutant in the lake. You never know. But it’s easy to fix on
the predator as the problem, because people see a cormorant dive down and come up with
a fish, and they say to themselves, I could have caught that fish.”

Pastor says even if the cormorants are eating lots of young rainbow trout, it doesn’t
necessarily mean the birds are hurting the overall trout population.

And even for an angler like Robin Whaley, the concern about the trout is mixed with a
feeling of respect for the cormorant.

“I admire the bird very much, but human beings, we’re in the business of controlling
habitats and populations, and this is just another case of that.”

For many anglers, the ultimate question in this competition between predators is simple.
It’s about who gets the trout – cormorants or humans.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

Related Links

Goose Herding a Growing Industry

  • Giant Canada Geese, Belle Isle, Detroit. (Photo by Celeste Headlee)

In just thirty years, the Giant Canada Goose has gone from near extinction to a now-thriving population. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of geese gather on golf courses and in state parks, often causing problems for their human neighbors. As the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Celeste Headlee reports, some property owners have found a unique solution to the problem:


In just thirty years, the Giant Canada Goose has gone from near
extinction to a now thriving population. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of geese
gather on golf courses and in state parks, often causing problems for
their human neighbors. As the Great Lake Radio Consortium’s Celeste
Headlee reports, some property owners have found a unique solution to the

A year ago, dozens of families flocked to Pier Park in the Detroit suburb
Grosse Pointe Woods for an annual Easter egg hunt. Children rushed
onto the
grass with their brightly colored baskets and then stopped abruptly when
they found themselves surrounded by Giant Canada geese and their

Park manager Michelle Balke says local residents decided
the geese had to go.

“They left droppings everywhere. You couldn’t walk on the grass. They’re
aggressive. If kids start going up to them, they start hissing back and it
got really annoying. They were everywhere.”

It hasn’t always been like that. The Giant Canada goose was so rare 30
years ago that many scientists thought it was extinct. But a few of the
large birds were spotted in the 1960s. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources began
an aggressive recovery program and there are now three and a half million Canada geese in the

Conservation agencies say the birds cause hundreds of thousands of
dollars in damage every year because of accumulated droppings, overgrazing,
attacks against people and threats to aircraft.

(sound of geese)

Tom Schneider is the curator of birds at the Detroit Zoo. He trades
glares with a large male bird that has taken up residence on a lawn at the zoo. The
big black and grey goose honks at Schneider, warning him to stay away
from his chosen territory. Schneider says one aggressive bird can be a bit of
a problem, but a large crowd of them is unacceptable.

“People tend to like them until they get to be a certain number where they
become a nuisance, and when they become a nuisance, they don’t want
any geese. So, you might have a lake that has five pairs on there and that’s
great, but if you have 50 pairs of geese on there, it’s not so good

Schneider is a member of the Canada Goose Coalition. The group
includes representatives from the government, hunters, scientists and animal
welfare organizations. The coalition deals with the large population of Canada
Geese in the Great Lakes region. Schneider says one of the problems
with the birds is that they eat grass. Most birds don’t.

“The problem is they don’t have very efficient digestive systems. So they
have to eat a lot of food to get their nutrients, so as a result they
produce a lot of fecal material.”

Schneider says property owners have struggled to deal with large
groups of geese and the droppings they leave behind. One adult goose produces
about a pound and a half of droppings every day. When there are a hundred
birds on a piece of property… well… you can imagine. But the birds are federally
protected. So there’s not a lot that you can do.

(sound of geese)

But…one guy got an idea and called Barbara Ray. Ray had for years
been training border collies to drive sheep when she got a call from a man
looking for a dog to herd birds.

“I had a golf course superintendent who just had an idea about trying to
use these dogs to herd the geese… not chase them because the dog
needed to be under control. We certainly can’t have a dog that catches the geese
and shreds them like other breeds would be prone to do. But one that is
simply jazzed by staring down and moving birds in a specific direction.”

Ray says it was easy for the dogs to learn how to drive geese and one
dog can cover several hundred acres. She says border collies naturally
intimidate prey without barking or attacking, so they’re perfect for this
kind of work.

“What they’re using is a ‘let’s make my day’ kind of approach where the
stock believes if they don’t move as the dog quietly approaches, staring at
them in this intimidating fashion, that they’re probably going to follow up and
do something more demonstrative.”

Ray has built a business around training goose dogs and has so far
sold more than 500 of the dogs. One of those border collies ended up at Pier Park
in suburban Detroit. Manager Michelle Balke says it’s been a year since
the dog, Kate, arrived and there is no longer a problem with geese at the

“She had just gotten rid of them, whether they sense her being here or
what, but they just stopped coming around. They were going next door, they
were hanging out on Lakeshore Road out there, but they just weren’t coming
into the park.”

(ambient sound of geese fade in)

Tom Schneider says goose dogs are an effective, humane way to deal
with Canada geese on private property, but it’s not a permanent solution to
the problem of overpopulation.

“The problem with that program… in many ways, it shifts those problem
geese to a different location, so maybe they may no longer be a problem on
this golf course but now they’re a problem on that golf course. While that
does provide some remedy for the people in those situations, it doesn’t really
solve the bigger, overall picture.”

Schneider has led a goose management program for over a decade at
the Detroit Zoo that involves destroying eggs. That program has cut the
number of geese on zoo grounds from between 500 and a thousand to 50.

This year, Schneider’s team will travel to other places to destroy eggs
and encourage thousands of geese to move on. But you have to have a
permit to do that which is not that easy to do. Schneider thinks goose dogs might
be the best alternative for private landowners.

(ambient sound out)

Goose dogs have become so popular that more than a dozen
companies around the U.S. now train and sell border collies to chase the Giant Canada

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Celeste Headlee.

(goose sound out)

Catching Underwater Looters

Laws protecting Great Lakes shipwrecks from looting vary from
state to state. But officials agree it’s nearly impossible to catch
underwater thieves… and only a handful of arrests are made each year.
Now, a Michigan case is encouraging officials to step up their efforts
save the shipwrecks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy
Nelson reports:

The Business of Fish Management

  • Similar scenes can be found up and down the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

Now that summer’s officially here, beaches around the region are packed with
tourists and locals. But this year many beaches have been plagued with
unwanted visitors: tens of thousands of dead fish in the water and on the
sand. It’s a revolting sight-and smell – but in fact, the fish play an
important role in the lakes…and present an ongoing management challenge to
biologists. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson explains:

Sturgeon Restrictions Threatens Tradition

Sturgeon numbers have been steadily declining around the Great Lakes
for years. In order to rehabilitate sturgeon populations, some states
are adopting new restrictions on harvesting the fish. In Wisconsin, the
sturgeon spearing season was shut down this year after just three days,
when the quota of fish had been caught. It was the state’s shortest
season on record. In Michigan, new restrictions will start next year.
But the new rules endanger something else: a way of life for
communities where the tradition of sturgeon spearing spans generations.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson reports:

Modern Day Pirates Raid Shipwrecks

If you think pirates are a thing of the past, think again. It’s estimated there are more than six-thousand shipwrecks in the Great Lakes…and modern day pirates are preying on them. They strip the ships of anchors, portholes and other underwater souvenirs, and sell them at a huge profit. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson has more:

Wolf Management Plan Stumbles

Last June, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit announced he wanted to remove thetimber wolf from the Endangered Species list because of dramatic populationrebounds in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. But before that can happen,each state must come up with a plan to manage the populations. Wisconsinand Michigan already have draft plans ready for public comment. ButMinnesota is lagging behind. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s StephanieHemphill reports: