Gray wolf seen in one California region for first time in 100 years; population strong in Michigan

Gray wolf removed from endangered species list for first time since 1978

Photo of Angela Mulka
FILE — Pictured is a pack of gray wolves.

FILE — Pictured is a pack of gray wolves.

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Gray wolves are native to Michigan, once present in all 83 counties before nearing eradication in 1960 as a result of persecution, habitat loss and predator control programs. The comeback of the wolf in Michigan is a remarkable wildlife success story, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The most recent survey of gray wolves, conducted between December 2019 and March 2020, by the Michigan DNR counted a minimum of 695 wolves, compared to only 20 wolves in 1992.

State and federal protection of wolves enabled successful recovery of the species throughout the western Great Lakes Region, according to the Michigan DNR

And, Michigan isn’t the only state to see its gray wolf population increasing, according to the Wildlife Society.

Wildlife researchers in California are celebrating this month after a single gray wolf was caught on camera wandering in the Kern County region.

The California Department of Fish & Wildlife said this is the first known wolf to return to the Central Coast in more than 100 years.

The wolf had a long journey, crossing 18 counties and several major highways before its radio collar stopped transmitting a signal.

The wolf finally showed up on a wildlife camera at a ranch in southwestern Kern County a few weeks ago, according to NewsChannel 3.

Check out the clip of the wolf below.

Historically, intensive eradication efforts and declining numbers of prey caused the wolf decline in the western Great Lakes area. Bounties paid for dead wolves began during the 1800s. By 1838, wolves were eliminated from the southern portion of Michigan. And, by 1960, wolves were also gone from most of northern Michigan, except Isle Royale, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Michigan protected the wolf in the 1970s, giving the gray wolf endangered species classification. Perhaps the most important factors leading to wolf recovery in the Midwest were the Endangered Species Act prohibitions that made killing and harming wolves illegal and the act's requirement that a recovery plan be prepared. Wolves also rebounded because their primary prey, white-tailed deer, were doing well, according to USFWS.

Since the winter of 1993-1994, the Michigan wolf population has been above 100, achieving the goal in the recovery plan. With this consistent expansion in numbers and range, the gray wolf population is healthy and recovered in the western Great Lakes region, according to USFWS.

The Michigan “Wolf Recovery and Management Plan,” created in 1997 and revised in 2008, recommends a minimum of 200 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. The goal of Michigan's DNR is to ensure the wolf population remains viable and above a level that would require either federal or state reclassification as a threatened or endangered species.

Federal delisting criteria required a combined Michigan/Wisconsin population of 100 wolves for five consecutive years for delisting to occur. The Michigan/Wisconsin combined population has exceeded 100 wolves every year since 1994, and currently numbers more than 1,000 wolves. The Michigan Wolf Recovery and Management Plan defined a viable population as 200 animals for five consecutive years to allow removal from the state endangered species list. The Michigan wolf population has exceeded 200 animals for more than a decade, according to USFWS.

In light of this significant recovery of the wolf population, it was announced on Oct. 29, 2020, that gray wolves were going to be removed from the Endangered Species Act. Since that announcement, news stories and press releases have been filled with quotes from various officials, lawyers, activists and politicians.

For example, the Michigan and Oregon attorneys general say the federal government improperly delisted gray wolves.

They filed a joint amicus brief in litigation against the USFWS, which alleges the federal government improperly removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list.

Dana Nessel in Michigan and Ellen Rosenblum in Oregon say the federal decision did not properly account for a lack of recovery across wolves’ historic range and, instead, cut the species into segmented populations in order to remove protections.

"By delisting the gray wolf nationwide, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service abandoned its obligation to protect endangered gray wolves wherever they are found. Turning cooperative federalism on its head, the service weaponized our effective wolf recovery in the Great Lakes region against wolf populations struggling to recover in other states,” Nessel said in a statement. “The facts are clear here: the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can only use Michigan’s successes in Michigan, not nationwide. Where wolves remain endangered, they must remain listed.”

Previously, wolves could only be legally killed in defense of human life in Michigan. Since the delisting of the gray wolf, farmers and ranchers in Michigan's Upper Peninsula are now able to shoot wolves that pose a threat to their dogs or livestock, which is something they had argued for, according to

Wildlife advocates have fought fiercely against delisting, arguing that federal protection is needed to keep states from allowing hunts.
Nessel and Rosenblum filed their brief in an ongoing case against the wildlife service, the U.S. Interior Department, brought by Defenders of Wildlife, Wildearth Guardians and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Nessel accused the federal government of “weaponizing” successful state-led efforts to rehabilitate the gray wolf population in the Great Lakes region. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the population has remained stable at about 700 wolves for several years, according to MLive.

Wolves officially came off the endangered list on Jan. 4, but the decision was quickly put under review by the Biden administration. The wolves remain delisted at this point.

To learn more about wolves and wolf management in Michigan, visit