Police chief Bruce Mahler is responsible for the safety of the residents of the city and township of Marenisco, Mich. When problems such as wolves roaming in town come up, he is the one who answers the call. For a township the size of Marenisco, 336 square miles, that can be challenging.
This was a topic of great concern at a recent deer management meeting in the town. Mahler said many hunters were at the meeting as well as two members of the Natural Resources Council, Rep. Scott Dianda, and members of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Mahler and many others expressed concern about predation and wolf sightings in the town.
"In the last 12 months I've had 28 wolf complaints and that's wolf complaints in town," Mahler said. "I'm not talking about the township, in town." He went on to say that the complaints range from wolves coming out of the woods toward people walking their dogs, wolves walking down city streets and roaming the parking lot of the clinic, and a wolf killing a deer in between two homes in town.
The chief also said he had a wolf on his own porch recently. He told those in attendance at the deer management meeting that the safety of the people of Marenosco are his main concern and he will take whatever steps necessary, within the bounds of the law, to ensure the security of all.
"People call me all the time," he said. "They ask what they can do about the wolves and I have to tell them they can't do anything - not unless the wolf is an immediate threat to them."
The problem is getting worse as the wolf population expands, he claims.
"It's a big problem up here," he said. "I know the DNR's hands are pretty much tied as far as what we can do about these wolves since they've been relisted (on the endangered species list) by court order, but I live this every day and I'm responsible for the safety of these people. I have to deal with it on a daily basis and no one wants to listen to what we have to say up here. Something has to be done."
Mahler said one of the most prominent local trappers in the Marenisco area recently set out his coyote traps and trapped 11 wolves before getting one coyote. Of course, the trapper had to let the wolves go, but the number that were trapped before even one coyote was trapped illustrates the extent of the wolf population in that area.
"The DNR usually lists the minimum number of wolves in an area when they do their surveys," Mahler explained. "They do the surveys in the winter, by plane, because that's when they can see them the best. That's not the time of year when the population is the highest, but they can't see them in sumer or fall, so they don't really have a choice. But they list our wolf population up here as at least 625 or 650. They always give a minimum number. Finally, though, the DNR came up with an estimate. The number they publish is always the low end, but this time they gave an actual estimate of the wolf population in the U.P. They said it is likely that there are 1,200 or even as many as 2,000 wolves in the area. That's a lot of wolves. We have to do something."
Mahler said one thing people don't realize is that the majority of wolves in the U.P. are in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties and it's becoming a real problem for the people in those areas. In April of 2015 members of the town board went on record as saying they believe that Marenisco has the highest population of wolves in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
"One of the things that I've been extremely concerned about is that we run a rescue service for snowmobiles, whether they're broken down or run out of gas, accidents, or whatever," Mahler said. "We're out helping those snowmobilers and patrolling the trails. When my guys are out there, they see wolves all the time. The deer we do have left use those snowmobile trails to move around because of the hard pack. So they see wolf kills out there all the time. When they go out Trail 2 toward Gogebic, and they come back, a wolf kill they saw on the way out will be completely gone because the wolves have dragged it off and devoured it. What happens if a snowmobiler breaks down at three in the morning five miles out of town? That has always been a serious issue that I have that nobody wants to listen to."
There was a rider attached to a recent omnibus spending bill that would have delisted wolves and returned authority over their management back to the state. Senator Gary Peters, Mahler said, was a major impetus behind that language being removed from the omnibus bill before it was considered and ultimately passed.
"I want to know why. Does he not understand what a problem this is for the U.P. and his constituents?" Mahler asked, adding that residents of Marenisco are growing more and more concerned about the wolf population and it seems nothing is being done.
Mahler is currently drafting a letter to the DNR, Dianda, who asked Mahler for information on the problem, Senator Peters, and "anyone else who will listen" to his concerns about what he and other residents see as an out of control wolf population. He believes there needs to be a balance between these predators and human safety.
"I want to make it known that these are not problems of wolves killing a deer five miles out of town. These are problems of wolves in people's driveways, wolves chasing their dogs, wolves on porches, in between homes, walking down streets and through parking lots," he said. "These are real people who are facing these problems. We need to do something before it gets worse."
Beckie Joki may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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