The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Wolves Living Close To Chicago... For Now...

By JoshMogerman in News on Apr 16, 2011 7:00PM

Gray wolves [National Park Service]
Wolves. At once revered and reviled, is there a more controversial critter in this country? The battle over wolves in the Northern Rockies actually spilled over into the federal budget battle last week, when a controversial policy rider was slipped into the final bill that booted the critters off the Endangered Species list despite ongoing scientific debate over their recovery. But what gets lost in the noisy fight over wolves out West is that there are way more of them in our neck of the woods. Chicago might be devoid of predators (aside from coyotes and the sexual kind) but we are a car-ride away from howling packs in the counties northwest of Madison. Right now there are 4,000 wolves in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan but a proposed federal rule change might whack those numbers down quickly in the Great Lakes.

Perhaps it is the milder Midwestern manner that has allowed the wolves an easier time in the Great Lakes than out west where the public debate has been a 24-7 talk radio staple---but it seems patience is starting to wear thin up north too. As conflicts grow, wolves have become targets. The AP notes:

In Michigan's far north, where the latest count totaled 557, people are taking matters into their own hands, [Michigan Department of Natural Resources wildlife specialist, Brian] Roell said. Ten illegally killed wolves have been found in the Upper Peninsula this year.
The high population numbers and growing conflict are helping to fuel a renewed effort by the federal government to dump the Great Lakes wolves from the Endangered Species list too. The Fish and Wildlife Service announced Friday that the states would take control over wolf populations, opening the door to more aggressive government hunting---though no open hunting season or trapping would be allowed for the next five years.

The announcement included an interesting new detail—apparently our wolves are a different species from the bruisers out West. Federal biologists claim that recent studies show the northern wolves to be a new and distinct species, canis lycaon. We've always known that things are a bit different for Cheeseheads and Northlanders—but a new species? Clearly the situation in this region is far different from the mess out West, but given the emotional and cultural baggage that accompanies wolves everywhere, there is probably another fight brewing. We will keep an eye on this as the debate heats up.