Michigan DNR said it killed wolves to protect humans. Then we got its emails.

Wolves from the Ontonagon pack preyed relentlessly on cattle at the Dykstra beef farm in the spring of 2016. Here, the herd gather around a calf that had been killed. (Photo courtesy Tom Dykstra)

ONTONAGON — Bouncing along a sodden farm pasture, Brad Johnson stopped his state vehicle when he came upon the newborn calf, or what remained of it.  

The veteran wildlife handler had been to this patch of farmland in the western Upper Peninsula several times the previous fall, when a dozen calves from the Dykstra beef ranch were reported missing. 

Gray wolves were suspected in those disappearances. But Johnson had little reason to fear for his own safety on this wet spring day; the local wolf pack was not considered a threat to people.

Which is what made what happened next startling: A single wolf burst into view and Johnson could only watch, frozen, as another calf was attacked, shredded before his eyes.

The brazen strike in the spring of 2016 ‒- which led to three wolves being hunted down and shot ‒- was not the first uncomfortable encounter between people and wolves in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. 

More than 600 gray wolves are estimated to populate Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a resurgence that pleases conservation groups but can create tensions with ranchers and some lawmakers who worry about the danger to livestock. (Photo courtesy Nancy Warren)

A few years earlier and 60 miles away in Ironwood, wolves were spotted outside a home, forcing residents to pound on a sliding-glass door to chase them away. More ominously, gray wolves were seen circling the perimeter of a children’s day care during recess. Those wolves, too, had to be shot dead. 

Taken together, the incidents were powerful evidence that a resurgent wolf population in the U.P. had become habituated and aggressive toward humans, strengthening calls among farmers, hunters and some lawmakers to drop gray wolves from the list of endangered animals protected by federal law.    

There was just one problem: None of these harrowing accounts turned out to be true. 

Related: The debate is on: Will wolves move to Michigan’s Lower Peninsula?
Related: Wolves face genetic challenge in Michigan’s Isle Royale, study says

No wolf sped past Brad Johnson to attack a calf on the Dykstra farm. No wolves were seen prowling near preschoolers at recess in Ironwood. And no pack congregated on the back deck of a local home.  

Officials at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and some lawmakers opposed to wolf protection policies were found to have embroidered, misstated or outright fictionalized the threat that gray wolves posed to humans.

Don Lonsway, the federal wildlife agent who shot three wolves at the Dykstra farm, is shown here examining a wolf taken in 2012 during a period when bans against wolf hunting were briefly lifted. (Photo courtesy John Koski) 

But getting to the truth took years. 

As a former MLive investigations editor and now freelance reporter, I’ve followed the controversy over the wolf kills for years and broke stories raising questions about DNR’s public statements about the shootings.

Now, internal emails I obtained for Bridge Magazine show that top DNR leaders had blocked the release of documents that contradicted their now-discredited justification for killing the Ontonagon wolves in 2016. These documents indicate that, rather than posing a peril to humans, the wolves were shot because they were decimating herds of high-priced beef cattle at the Dykstra farm, costing the state tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements.

The distinction is critical. The U.S. Endangered Species Act allows the killing of federally protected animals if they pose a danger to people. But it forbids their killing for attacking livestock. Violators can face up to a year in jail

The obfuscation comes at a critical time: The Trump administration wants to remove wolves from the list of protected animals under the Endangered Species Act in the Lower 48 states, which could impede their recovery of animals once on the verge of extinction.

The records obtained by Bridge raise questions about the credibility of state wildlife leaders as honest brokers in the debate over whether to delist gray wolves from federal protection.

They also highlight fresh concerns about the rigor of Michigan’s public records law, which allows state or local governments to routinely delay or stonewall public requests for documents for months or even years, often with little consequence

“How can we trust the DNR will manage wolves based on the best-available science with their history of misleading the public, reporters and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?” asked Nancy Warren, executive director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, a volunteer organization that has been critical of the state’s transparency on wolf encounters.

The DNR has since acknowledged inaccuracies in its petition to the U.S. government to shoot the wolves. But a department spokesman blames the discrepancies on a “miscommunication” among staffers and denies the agency purposely sought to mislead the public or the federal government.    

‘Shoot, shovel and shut up!’ 

The Dykstra farm has become a symbol of wolf depredation in Michigan.

The 700-head operation, on 2,000 acres near Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula, has more cattle than the nearby town of Greenland has people.

Dykstra trademarks its herd as “Michigan Craft Beef,” raised without antibiotics, hormones or genetically modified feed. Its Black Angus are pampered right up to the moment they are slaughtered ‒ grazing on grass and alfalfa, with tart-cherry syrup, apples and wet beer barley added to give their meat a distinctive taste.

DNR wildlife technician Brad Johnson -‒ shown here releasing a GPS-collared elk -‒ scared a wolf from a field at Dykstra Beef Farm on April 29, 2016. His just-the-facts report on the incident was transformed into a far more dramatic encounter between man and wolf by higher-ups at DNR.  (Photo by DNR) 

Ontonagon is geographically closer to Fargo, North Dakota, than to Detroit, making this big snow country, averaging about 200 inches a winter. Snowmobiling is popular here. Wolves are not.  

Shoot, shovel and shut up” is a common phrase among the locals, reflecting ranchers’ long-standing frustration with federal wildlife protection policy. It’s a policy, they say, that seems more focused on protecting predators than shielding farmers from economic ruin. 

One popular bumper sticker has mock bullet holes and the message: “Michigan Wolves: Smoke a Pack a Day.” 

The pack that ravaged Dykstra’s calves follows the Flintsteel River, which runs past the company’s large cattle operation. At the time, the Ontonagon Pack included six adult gray wolves -‒ two males and four females.

There is little question that the wolves struck the Dykstra cattle hard in 2016. 

Records show 35 cattle were killed or reported missing that year, a blow even for one of the largest cattle operations in the Upper Peninsula. Spring was particularly difficult. In April and May alone, the farm lost 16 calves. Workers took pains to protect the animals -‒ installing flashing lights around the pasture, moving the herd closer to the farm, performing head counts twice a day -‒ and still the wolves feasted.  

But even as the farm was victimized by wolves, it benefited from government help. Not from the federal government, but from Michigan taxpayers and a prominent Upper Peninsula lawmaker. 

To date, the ranch has received roughly $50,000 from state taxpayers under an agriculture program meant to keep the peace with farmers. The fund reimburses farmers at “fair market value” for livestock killed or missing because of wolves, coyotes and, if ever necessary, cougars. 

That $50,000 is more than any farm has received since the state program began in 2012, according to a Bridge analysis of more than 400 payments totaling a quarter-million dollars.

Farm owner Tom Dykstra documented the killings of calves through the first half of 2016, which allowed him to obtain state reimbursement for their deaths. Despite flashing lights and other measures intended to deter the local pack, the wolves kept coming. (Photo courtesy Tom Dykstra)

Most payments were for Dyktra’s losses in 2016 — $28,915 for 20 cattle killed and 15 missing (and presumed killed), more than all other Michigan farms combined that year. 

Tom Dykstra, of Moraine Park Farms near Zeeland, which owns the Ontonagon farm, declined to comment for this article. In previous interviews, Dykstra, 40, has said he does not oppose federal efforts to protect wolves — when they are on public land. But ranchers also need protection, he argued, and he has not hesitated to press for state compensation when predators strike.

Indeed, in early 2016 Dykstra was able to persuade the state to triple the value of his herd based on its craft-level quality, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) records show.  

Seven weeks after agreeing to raise compensation for Dykstra’s cattle, the state secured federal permission to kill the wolves, citing the now discredited incident involving a wolf attacking near Brad Johnson. 

State DNR and agriculture officials say the high price of reimbursing Dykstra for lost cattle played no role in the state’s efforts to have the Ontonagon wolves killed.  

But an internal DNR email obtained by Bridge shows Dykstra was haggling with the state agency over reimbursement money around that time.  

The email, written May 19, 2016, indicates Tom Dykstra was angry MDARD was pressing him to waive a $5,000 penalty the state owed him for slow reimbursement.

“(T)he MDARD employee pushed Dykstra into not making an issue of the ($5,000) because the employee would get into trouble,” U.P. wildlife supervisor Terry Minzey wrote to his boss, Wildlife Chief Russ Mason.

“It sounds like the conversation went downhill from there,” Minzey concluded.

The state sought ‒ and received ‒ federal approval the next day to have the Ontonagon wolves killed.

Shootings and talking points 

DNR supervisors and wildlife managers would not publicly acknowledge the killing of the three wolves for two years, as detailed in nearly 500 pages of emails Bridge received this year through the state Freedom of Information Act. Even when the agency finally confirmed the killings last November, it stuck by the argument that the wolves posed a danger to humans. 

The agency’s internal records tell another story.  

In the months before the May 2016 wolf shootings, DNR records show that the agency had repeatedly described the wolves of the Ontonagon pack as posing no threat to humans.

Russ Mason was DNR wildlife chief for more than a decade, and defended the agency’s position that the Ontonagon wolves posed a threat to people. (Photo by DNR) 

Brad Johnson, the field technician, had investigated missing cattle at the Dykstra farm three times the previous fall, filling out checklists on wolf activity reports after every visit. In each report, he noted the wolves did not show “fearless behavior” and were not “perceived to be a threat to personal or family safety,” or even to family pets.

More critically, Johnson’s notes say nothing about a wolf racing past him to attack another calf on April 29, 2016, the narrative pushed by the DNR to help justify killing the Ontonagon pack.  

Instead, the records show Johnson was in fact on the Dykstra farm earlier that day to check on a dead calf. Hours later, on a return visit, a motorist told him that cows were being chased on another part of the ranch. Johnson had to drive three-quarters of a mile before he spotted a wolf. His report said he blew his horn and fired a warning shot from 60 to 80 yards away to “chase a wolf away.” 

Several weeks later, when DNR petitioned the federal government to approve the wolf killings, an agency memo reimagined the circumstances of Johnson’s April encounter with the wolf, making it sound like the wolf was comfortable enough to attack the calf while Johnson was in the field.  

“These wolves continued to attack livestock, even in the presence of humans, including a DNR technician,” said a one-page DNR document, dated May 23, 2016. 

The document, labeled “Wolf Talking Points,” was not publicly released. In fact, the DNR announced nothing about the calf attacks or wolf shootings at the time. 

Wolves terrorizing Ironwood 

The Ontonagon encounter was not the only alarming wolf tale to eventually unravel in the U.P. Tales of gray wolves menacing preschoolers and residents in Ironwood ‒ accounts amplified by state DNR officials and lawmakers ‒ would also fall apart under scrutiny.    

The daycare story first gained prominence in 2011 when state House and Senate members who favored the legalization of wolf hunts cited the incident in urging Congress to delist gray wolves from federal protection.   

In resolutions passed a month apart, the lawmakers wrote: 

“Wolves appeared multiple times in the backyard of a day care center shortly after the children were allowed outside to play. Federal agents disposed of three wolves in that backyard because of the potential danger to the children.”

That account was inaccurate, as I first reported for Mlive.com in 2013. Lori Holm of Ironwood told me she was home with children who were inside the house when she spotted a wolf on her lawn near her dog, a white Sheltie. She went outside and screamed at the wolf, which turned away, ending the drama.  

There were no children in the backyard that day. It was only one wolf, not three. And the wolves eventually shot in Ironwood were killed, not in the woman’s yard, but seven months later on property nearly a mile from Holms’ land. 

The daycare story originated with Anders Tingstad, a pro-hunt Ontonagon County Circuit Court judge who helped write the resolution state lawmakers directed to Congress. An investigation found Tingstad had misconstrued an incident that he had heard about secondhand. 

The Senate resolution was sponsored by Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba. He would later apologize on the Capitol floor for the misleading account. 

"I was mistaken, I am accountable, and I am sorry," Casperson told colleagues in 2013. "Words matter. Accuracy matters. Especially here, with a topic that is so emotional and is so important to so many, especially those whose way of life is being changed in my district.” 

Casperson was not the only state official who had pressed the narrative of prowling wolves in Ironwood.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, who was the powerful chairman of the Natural Resources Committee until this year, was eager to help Tom Dykstra rid his farm of predatory wolves. “Within about a two-week span, he had lost like 14 calves,” Casperson told Bridge. “You can’t wipe out a guy's herd.” 

It was a DNR employee, furbearer specialist Adam Bump, who told Michigan Radio in May 2013 of wolf packs terrorizing Ironwood residents.

“So you have wolves showing up in backyards, wolves showing up on porches, wolves staring at people through their sliding-glass doors when they’re pounding on it, exhibiting no fear,” he said during the interview. 

Never happened. 

At least not in Michigan, as Bump would later acknowledge in recanting the story on air. He said he had mistakenly recounted an incident from a book he had read about human encounters with mountain lions in Colorado.

Inquiries evaded for years 

Warren, of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, said she first heard “casual talk” of wolf attacks at the Dykstra farm in May 2016 as she listened to a country music station at her home in nearby Ewen.

Inquiries to the DNR’s Marquette office that May 26 were met with a string of evasive responses, her correspondence shows. Warren persisted. 

She filed a formal request for cattle-attack reports the next morning, Friday, May 27, 2016.

Warren didn’t know it then, but the first of the three killings of the Ontonagon wolves had already taken place. 

Under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, government agencies are required to respond to public records requests within 5 business days, though a provision allows them a 10-day extension, which they routinely take.

At the end of that period, the agency’s only obligation is to give a response, such as by sending a letter saying the records will (or will not) be provided. 

Agencies are not required to actually provide the records within that time. In fact, one significant loophole in state law is that it provides no clear guidelines for when the records themselves must be turned over, which means that people seeking records often have to rely on the goodwill of the government worker in that office.   

DNR charged Warren $87.50 for the records. 

Nine weeks later, the agency turned over 35 pages on cattle attacks to Warren. 

But when she looked at the papers sent by Chief Mason’s office, the names, addresses and contact information were blacked out, making it impossible to determine which farmers lost cattle to wolves. DNR also excluded geographic coordinates ‒ township, range and section numbers ‒ for farms that suffered livestock attacks.  

It’s not unusual for government offices to redact parts of a document. Generally, they’re allowed to block information if they can show it falls under one of several exemptions to public records, usually to protect someone’s privacy. The home address of a judge or police officer, for example, or the Social Security number of a party in a lawsuit are the kinds of information shielded from public release.  

DNR sought to extend this same exemption to farms. Victoria Lischalk, Chief Mason’s executive assistant, wrote Warren that the location of livestock attacks was considered “information of a personal nature (and) would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy” if released.   

Warren found that argument preposterous. As a longtime wolf advocate who had helped the state develop its wolf management plan in 2008, she said there were plenty of times when she’d received similar information within days.

So in November 2016 Warren hired an attorney to sue DNR, arguing that the location of reported wolf attacks were germane to the public’s understanding of how the DNR handled wolf encounters, and outweighed any privacy concerns of farmers. 

DNR’s stonewalling, she argued, was an effort to retaliate against her for her outspoken opposition to wolf hunting.

“In short, it appears that higher-level DNR officials have ended the friendly and informal relationship [Warren] had previously enjoyed,” the suit said, “and have instituted a policy of tight lips.” 

Lawsuits take time. It was not until May 2018, two years after Warren first sought the records, that Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens ruled in Warren’s favor and ordered the public records released.

“General geographic information describing where a wolf encountered livestock does not fit the definition of ‘personal,’” Stephens wrote. “Even assuming the information were personal, the balancing test would favor disclosure because the information reveals information about [DNR’s] wolf-management policies.” 

The judge ordered DNR to pay $11,000 in fees and costs to Warren’s lawyer, Rebecca Millican of Traverse City, to reimburse Warren for the cost of litigating the case.    

A powerful friend in Lansing 

The DNR documents released to Bridge add to evidence uncovered in earlier reporting I performed for The Detroit News that suggested DNR had bent to pressure from Casperson ‒ the pro-business, anti-wolf senator from Escanaba ‒- to have the Ontonagon wolf pack killed. 

As cattle losses mounted on the Dykstra farm in the spring of 2016, it was Casperson, the influential chairman of the Senate’s Natural Resources Committee, who intervened at the request of owner Tom Dykstra.  

The senator’s 38th District covered the western U.P., including Ontonagon County and the Dykstra operation. Casperson ‒ who once wore a wolf-skin cap to celebrate a wolf-hunt victory ‒ was a strong proponent of reshaping the state’s conservation laws to make them more friendly to business, hunting and property interests.  

Until term limits forced him from office last December, Casperson led the charge to allow the hunting of gray wolves in Michigan should they ever lose federal protection. When I interviewed him last fall, Casperson acknowledged he had called Terry Minzey, DNR’s U.P. wildlife supervisor, after getting an earful from Tom Dykstra.

The rancher was angry that state and federal wildlife managers had captured and caged two of the wolves the day before, only to release them. The wildlife managers had hoped that harassing the wolves by caging them would scare them off. 

Dykstra “had lost like 14 calves and was sending regular pictures and it was just unacceptable,” Casperson said of his decision to call DNR. “You can’t wipe out a guy's herd.” 

Reimbursing Dykstra’s farm for livestock losses was adding up, Casperson said, even as he acknowledged the wolves had no history of being aggressive around people. 

“The question became,” Casperson said, “who is going to go first? Who wants to take the first shot, so to speak? I think he (Minzey) understood someone had to go first.” 

Three days later, Minzey put his name to the memo describing the phantom wolf attack in front of Johnson.  

Dykstra farm manager Duane Kolpack confirmed Casperson’s assessment. 

The decision to kill the wolves “was kind of thrown together quick because the [animal] activists kind of frown on killing wolves when they are federally protected,” Kolpack told me last year.  

It was only after Casperson and Kolpack separately disclosed the wolf shootings that DNR acknowledged the killings, 2 ½ years after they happened. Even then, the state still insists the pack’s aggressiveness in the presence of humans (and not their killing of livestock) prompted the decision.  

Federal wildlife law permits the killing of protected gray wolves in defense of human life, or if wolves pose a “demonstrable but non-immediate threat to human safety.” 

In seeking federal permission to shoot the wolves, DNR highlighted Johnson’s purported encounter with the aggressive wolf at the Dykstra farm.  

“In one case, the wolf was sufficiently bold as to enter the pasture and kill a calf at the very moment one of our wildlife technicians was in the same field investigating a previous kill,” Minzey, the wildlife supervisor, wrote to the federal government ‒ bolding and underlining the passage

Curiously, in the version of this letter the department provided to me in 2018, DNR removed the bold and underlined emphasis used by Minzey in petitioning the feds.

Likewise, the department also withheld a portion of the U.S. response which indicated just how influential Minzey’s account was in the federal government’s approval of the wolf kills. That excised paragraph said: 

“It is clear that the wolves are acting aggressively including in the presence of humans as documented by the attack on livestock while the MDNR technician was in the same field, ” wrote Scott Hicks, regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supervisor, in approving lethal action.

The emails released to Bridge show DNR pressed the same, discredited account involving Johnson to its own employees. On May 23, 2016, Mason told DNR staff: 

“This past week, for the first time ever, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorized the lethal removal of three wolves that showed persistently, brazen behavior by killing livestock in the presence of the operator and our staff.” 

Johnson declined comment for this article. Minzey, the supervisor who wrote the inaccurate report, did not return multiple emails and phone messages and DNR would not make him available for an interview. He remains with the department.

DNR spokesman Ed Golder describes Minzey’s account as a “communication breakdown.” In an email earlier this year, Golder said Minzey had “no clear recollection” how he got the facts wrong about the 2016 wolf encounter. 

But Golder also insists the decision to kill the Ontonagon wolves was not solely based on the Brad Johnson incident. 

“That single incident was one factor among others involved in drawing the conclusion that the wolves posed a non-immediate threat to human safety,” Golder wrote Bridge. 

He also noted that non-lethal measures had failed to keep the wolf pack from Dykstra’s cattle pastures.  

Golder declined to elaborate, writing in March: “We don’t have anything to add to that account.” 

But Russ Mason did. 

Sticking to its defense 

Mason was DNR wildlife chief for over a decade and was well known to hunters, with his sprawling command ranging from furry and feathered game to neurological illnesses like chronic wasting disease in “zombie” whitetails.

Last Nov. 30, Mason told me the Ontonagon wolf shootings were necessary to protect people. 

The DNR, Mason said, is “just as transparent as we can be with the number of wolves that have been [killed].” He released a three-page “timeline” purporting to set the record straight. 

But Golder, the agency spokesman, acknowledged in an email a few months later that Mason knew the Brad Johnson wolf attack story was false “prior to the time of your interview.” Brian Roell, a DNR wildlife specialist, had told top officials what really happened two days before the interview. This was apparently the second time Roell had raised questions internally about the agency’s description of the incident, email records obtained by Bridge show.

DNR depredation specialist Brian Roell twice raised questions about the agency’s characterization of a wolf incident on the Dykstra farm. Still, the DNR pushed the false narrative of a brazen wolf attacking a calf in the presence of a DNR worker. (Photo by DNR)

Nonetheless, DNR Director Keith Creagh insisted in an interview last year that he was also “familiar with there being menacing behavior” by wolves at the Dykstra farm leading to shootings, adding: “I would be surprised that a DNR employee would fabricate an incident.” 

This September, DNR announced Mason was leaving his post as wildlife division chief to become the agency’s first executive in residence at Michigan State University’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

Creagh was replaced by Dan Eichinger after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won office last year. 

Outcry from conservation groups 

The agency’s shifting accounts have drawn scorn from conservation groups, which say they’re worried the Trump administration will soon remove federal protection for gray wolves. 

“Federal (wolf) delisting cannot legally proceed without an adequate and reliable state regulator to take over – and the DNR has once again shown it is not up to the task,” Molly Tamulevich, Michigan director of the Humane Society of the United States, told Bridge.

Collette Adkins, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which advocates for endangered species, calls DNR's account of the Dykstra farm incident "nonsensical" and "inexcusable,” adding that “leadership at the Michigan DNR needs to fire any employee who lied about the behavior of wolves on that farm.”

"Decisions about the fate of endangered wildlife need to be based on science, not fabricated stories aimed at appeasing politicians,” she said.

The Arizona-based center is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over plans it announced in March to delist wolves in the mainland U.S. states. The proposal closed for public comment on July 15. It remains unclear when a final decision will be made. 

Scott Hicks, the regional Fish and Wildlife supervisor who approved the shooting of the Ontonagon wolves, said he still believes the shootings were appropriate, even though the described attack near Brad Johnson turned out to be false. 

“It sounds like you are talking with people who perhaps have a different opinion, but, here is the bottom line: I am satisfied with the information the Michigan DNR provided me about this issue and I am confident the decision to take the wolves was fully in accordance with the ESA,” Hicks wrote in May, referencing the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

“If you continue to have questions about what the DNR did or said, I suggest you contact them.”

The future of Michigan wolves 

Removing gray wolves from federal protections would mostly impact Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. More wolves roam the western Great Lakes, about 4,200, than in the Pacific Northwest and Northern Rockies combined.

Deciding how to manage this vestige of wild America is especially relevant as wolf populations level between 600 and 700 in Michigan.

The future of Michigan’s gray wolf population is uncertain, with the Trump administration weighing whether to delist the animals from its current protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. (Photo courtesy Nancy Warren) 

Researchers say the Upper Peninsula is near capacity, with indications some wolves crossed the Straits of Mackinac in the frozen winter months to northern lower Michigan. (Genetic testing verified one wolf near Cross Village in 2014, but no mating pairs have been identified.)

It’s an unlikely resurgence after wolves receded from the Great Lakes like the glaciers that carved their range. A wolf bounty was the ninth law passed after Michigan achieved statehood in 1837, a death sentence that was not repealed until 1960, when the state’s wolf population had nearly vanished. 

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is credited with the return of Canis lupus’ from Canada to levels not seen in generations in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. 

This year marks the 30th anniversary since a single breeding pair was discovered in the mid-Upper Peninsula. Today, wolves can be found in heavily forested lands in every U.P. county

“A wolf attack on a human has never been documented in Michigan,” according to the Michigan Wolf Management Plan. “However, wolves have attacked people in other areas of North America … and concerns for public safety are warranted in some situations.”

Aside from livestock, hunting dogs and occasionally pets are also killed, anywhere from a few per year to as many as 17 in 2014. Michigan taxpayers do not reimburse owners for those losses.

The state says 25 wolves have been killed since 2004 as a “non-immediate” threat to human safety. Those cases largely involved nuisance complaints of wolves wandering near residents ‒ not livestock farms. For example, eight wolves from two packs were taken in winter 2012 after following deer to residential bird feeders near Ironwood.

It’s not entirely clear how many wolves remain in the Ontonagon pack today. 

The last of the three 2016 shootings, on June 11, involved a female wearing a radio-collar that had traveled 55 miles north from Golden Lake. That left three remaining wolves. But not for long. 

A fourth wolf was killed by a vehicle shortly afterward, state records show, a fate experts said is not uncommon among packs that have been disrupted. That left two female survivors. No pups were seen, though a lactating female was spotted by a government sharpshooter around the time of the killings, a DNR spokesperson told Bridge.

That female’s partner was likely among the two males shot, as alphas generally mate for life.

A quieter farm 

There have been few verified livestock attacks at the Dykstra ranch since 2016, state records show. In the last DNR survey of wolf populations, conducted last year, three adult wolves were seen in the Ontonagon Pack.  

That number likely went back down again this year. DNR arrested a Greenland man in January for allegedly shooting a collared adult female.

A GPS-collared female gray wolf from the Ontonagon pack was illegally shot near Greenland in the Upper Peninsula this past January, not far from the Dykstra farm. (Photo by DNR) 

I sent the DNR an email asking if Roell, the depredation specialist  -‒ a Great Lakes and national authority on wolves -‒ could tell me if the poached wolf in Greenland was from the Ontonagon Pack. 

My email was forwarded by Golder to Roell, then to Mason, the wildlife chief, and Minzey, the author of the discredited 2016 report. The men engaged in an internal discussion about my inquiry, presumably unaware I had been left on the email string. 

Golder: “Brian: Can you please help answer this factual question for this reporter ‒ whether or not the wolf taken near Greenland was part of the Ontonagon Pack?”

Roell: “Why are we helping John Barnes yet again?”

Golder: “Just answering a factual question in this instance. Thanks.”

Roell: “The answer is No! Really the answer to all of Barnes's questions is no.” 

(Roell eventually confirmed in the email exchange that the poached wolf was not from the Ontonagon pack.)  

Golder: “Thanks, Brian. No, this wolf was not from the Ontonagon pack ‒ that is a sufficient answer for Mr. Barnes' purposes.”

About the author
John Barnes worked at The Grand Rapids Press and Mlive.com for 33 years. He specialized in investigative journalism and most recently oversaw journalism  projects for Mlive.com’s eight newspapers statewide. Barnes has reported extensively on gun rights, criminal justice, traffic safety, the outdoors and medical issues.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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John Stanley
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 8:04am

It’s the government they’re allowed to lie and falsely fill out official government forms and not be prosecuted, look at congress, Flint. No one goes to jail. Trust your Government. Who cares if you DIE!!

Lori Nelson
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 8:33am

Very disappointing to know the DNR would falsify information to justify killing endangered species. Thank you for your diligence in tracking down the facts and reporting them.

David Johnson
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 8:36am

The DNR introduced the wolf to Michigan with no controls or pack limits in place. Now the wolves are out of control but it is one of the DNR’s pet projects. The result is to mislead the public again. Our ancestors had reason to get rid of the wolves years ago.

Al Warren
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 11:26am

The DNR did not reintroduce the wolves. Where do you get this misinformation?

Ed Anguilm
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 8:48am

Why do we need them. If we ever got rid of mosquito s some bureau would want to bring them back. Wolves are of NO USE to the residents of Michigan

Timothy Fitzger...
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 9:13am

That's fascinating. Of course if we got rid of mosquitos we would soon follow the bats, birds, reptiles and other species that rely on them as a food source as the ecosystem we rely on collapsed.

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 10:11am

You are right. Unfortunately, we are allowing the same collapse that ultimately affects humans with the wide-spread use of toxic chemical products, like PFAS, glyphosate, etc. produced to make a quick buck without regard to the consequences. This world is a mess and corruption is at an all-time high. Notwithstanding that today more than ever we have digital paper-trails of the bad behavior. The perpetrators are never held accountable. Bad actors can be confronted with their own words and actions only to be disbelieved their cult followers. Look at the impeachment inquiry. The republicans are living in an alternative reality where we must all abide enduring their opposite speak. We are told not to believe what we see and hear, to instead believe what we are told, just like Animal Farm.

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 12:12pm

Agree, since you found it necessary to bring up Trump and the impeachment hearings, totally unrelated to the topic by the way, I find it necessary to respond. I've watched every witness the dems have had testify. Not one has provided any concrete testimony or facts that Trump did anything wrong. The only thing they had were their "feelings" or "it seemed". The Reublicans shredded their testimony and the dems narratives over and over. I then watched cnn, msnbs etc for their take on what transpired. Over and over without fail they twisted, distorted and outright lied about what happened and what I had just witnessed for myself. And apparently people such as yourself salivate and devour it. So who's really living in the "alternate reality?" And you state " We are told not to believe what we see and hear, to instead believe what we are told, just like Animal Farm" I'll leave you with this clip of Mika Brzezinski slipping up and admitting she thinks it's the medias job to tell you what to think and believe. So... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJ9ce-yMEfc

Jeff h
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 11:29pm

Terry your a muppet!! You would prob rather be Russian Than a democrat . Captain heel Spurs is a traitor and you are to!

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 10:35am

Jeff, A muppet? Well I do like Oscar the grouch. Anyway you sat I'd prolly rather be Russian than a dimocrat. There might be some accuracy in that. Russia today has far more freedom and sanity than what the dims have to offer. They're also unashamedly hold Christian beliefs which the dims abhor. They also laugh at your idea of countless genders and the ability to transform from one sex to the other as a couple of examples. So yes, Russia mirrors my intellect and values far more in many regards. And you accuse me of being a traitor? Isn't Bernie an old style Soviet wannabe who even honeymooned in Moscow years ago because he and his bride admired them so? And that was the tyrannical Soviet times. Not modern free Russia. Doesn't Bernie also support the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships? Is that your desire for our country? And yet he's one of the leading dimocrat candidates for President. Now let's talk about Omar and Tlaib. Muslims who want to get rid of our Constitution and live under Sharia Law. Seriously, who are the REAL traitors here?

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 8:46pm

Good lord, you've got cottage cheese for brains, son. Nothing you wrote was even remotely true, and it's terrifying that you believe every word

Thu, 11/28/2019 - 5:08pm

Bones. Was your comment directed at me? If so please explain why you believe nothing I wrote is true. And I'm almost afraid to ask but what is the truth as you see it?

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 12:55pm

Why? To keep the price of your hamburger going up five cents a pound? Everything in the native environment here is tied together and belongs. Except for invasive species, including humans. Do everyone a favor and keep your death advocating for wildlife to yourself.

Fri, 11/29/2019 - 6:22am

The gov't reimburses for a cow that fed NOBODY but wolves! You're fine when the gov't pays that extra 5 cents? lol, where do you think the gov't gets it's money??
In reality we could save 5 cents a lb AND have a T-bone!
Or we can ship in beef from Argentina and Mexico. Do tell about the fossil fuels used in this instance …..

Bob Short
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 5:04pm

It's called the "balance oo nature" , which we've screwed up! Obviously, with your attitude you don't understand.
One of the reasons for the large deer populsation is the lack of natural predators conttrol!

Timothy Fitzger...
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 9:08am

This is some top notch investigative reporting. Hats off to John and Bridge for your persistence and drive to reveal the truth. In this post-truth society where people "stick to their story," even after their misdeed has been exposed, only good reporting holds hope for holding people accountable when they, or their superiors, won't do it themselves.

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 9:18am

Fantastic work covering this topic. It's scary how much we are lied to by the people we pay...there needs to be much greater accountability, and coverage like this is the only way to get it.

Steven mcintosh
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 9:33am

We have a camp in Marquette county near Dickinson county on a lake. My wife had an encounter near camp while taking a walk. Fortunately it was with a lone wolf. It stood it’s ground and stared at her before turning and traipsing down the road for a 1/4 of a mile before turning into a two track into the woods. We told the DNR of the encounter and were told there is a pack named after our lake in the area. A year later my neighbor, who lives there year around ,had one chase a deer into the lake right along side his house while he was having morning coffee looking out at the lake. Once the deer was out swimming the wolf watched it from the front yard and turned and looked at my neighbor inside his panorama windows then back to the deer. As the deer headed across the cove to another camp the wolf saw it doing that and commenced to go around the shoreline. As it did it looked in at my neighbor as if to say, just what are you going to do about it? That is the definition of , “habituated”!!!!! As the deer got to the camp across the cove and came out of the water it was meant by another smaller deer. Within a short time they were both flushed into the lake by a pair of wolves now. The deer swam out to the rocks in the middle of the lake. From there after a short rest continued to the other side of the lake. Like I told the DNR what if my 7 year old granddaughter had been out playing along side the house when the incident happened? Do you really believe the wolf would not have attacked her. Because wolves don’t attack people !!!!! They’re an apex predator, they’ll do anything they want where there’s an opportunity. I’ve been at this camp since I was a child in the 1950’s . Then we wandered freely with little regard for our safety outside of a possible bear in the woods . Now I’m much more prudent as to where I let my grandkids go off to because of a frigging Wolfpack roaming the woods ! All so we can enable the virtue signaling ignorant city folks to think how wonderful they are for saving another species, which by the way, did not need saving. If they were so worried about them they could go to Canada or Russia and live with all they wanted of them. Think about the fact that there are more wolves in the Great Lakes than are in the Pacific and Northern Rockies areas combined! That area is much larger than the Great Lakes. The wolf population has tripled in our area in a very short time and will again if not controlled through a hunt. Because outside of man they are the apex predator. Just ask a bear hunter I ran into in the woods who lost his dog to them. Or the coyote I witnessed running for his life one morning as I was driving to town and it ran in front of my truck. Nothing has a chance against a pack of wolves on the hunt for food . I think you should reinstate a wolf hunting season.

Nancy Warren
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 11:38am

What you described is typical wolf behavior. They will often give a quizzical look, glance and then go on their way. Just recently four wolves crossed my path. I never felt threatened. Living in the U.P. I have encountered wolves many times and each time, they look and continued on sometimes with a nervous wag of their tail. For more than 10 years, I was a volunteer carnivore tracker for Wisconsin DNR, often alone on snowshoes, in known wolf pack territories, assisting with wolf population counts. I never felt the need to carry a gun for protection from wolves.

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 12:58pm

God forbid you be prudent where your grandchildren go. If you are afraid of wolves, go elsewhere.
Man is an "apex predator"? If you don't have a gun you better hope a deer doesn't attack you.

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 9:07am

The wolf population estimates for upper Michigan have been flat since 2011. We proved we don't need hunts to stop increases in wolf densities there. You are making stuff up.
Black bears kill more people than wolves. Dogs kill more than black bears. But that is just based on data.

Barry Goldman
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 9:45am

I'll comment with my credit card.
We need to support journalism like this

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 9:58am

I do agree that the DNR should be forthwith and honest with the reports. BUT, the wolf is an apex predator with man being its only enemy. For anyone to believe that wolves would not take livestock is only fooling themselves. We have come to a crossroads with wildlife in that the more we encroach on their territory the more "incidences" . I expect the reassurance of cougars in Michigan will be the next go around. We live in a bear area and have learned to adjust to them bringing in our bird feeders and not leaving a food source out to attract them.

Richard Barron
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 10:05am

Thank you to Mr. Barnes & The Bridge for persistence in discovering and reporting state government complicity in violation of federal law (ESA) and then trying to hide its actions from citizens seeking relevant information under Michigan law (FOIA).
Although I am a "troll", I note that the wolves were in the UP long before "craft beef" cattle and that while wolves serve a demonstrable environmental benefit in culling the deer population, hence their federal protection, cattle demonstrably serve to exacerbate our climate crisis.

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 10:08am

so having grown up around farms, my question regarding the Dykstra farm has been why not put up fencing to keep them out? I imagine for the $50,000 they got from the state, they could do quite a bit of fencing.
Kudos on the reporting and telling of the truth. Truth seems to be the most 'endangered species' currently.

John Barnes
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 1:28pm

The DNR claims it offered fencing, but Mr. Dykstra has said he would bear the cost for labor and upkeep for a fence he believes would be ineffective on so much property and that wolves are so smart, they'd tunnel under. (That has been the case with coyotes on some farms.)

Fri, 11/22/2019 - 12:48pm

Well done, great reporting.

Mark Steckloff
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 12:59pm

Excellent, informative article! I applaud Mr. Barnes’ persistence with MDNR and federal wildlife managers.

We clearly need to strengthen Michigan’s FOIA and be skeptical of gray wolf de-listing rationales.

Paul Jordan
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 1:26pm

There clearly needs to be a reckoning in this department. Bad things happen when public servants follow their own inclinations instead of the law. They decided to pick and choose which law they would follow--or maybe just do what they want.
If this sort of renegade activity happened in the DNR, who is to say that it didn't happen in every corner of state government during the eight years of Snyder's pro-business administration?
The house of state government needs cleaning.

Les Grossman
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 4:03pm

Great piece of journalism. Thank you for your work. This makes me think I should actually contribute $$ to Bridge. Keep up the good work!

Debra Curci
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 4:40pm

Reprehensible act by government officials. The lunacy and irony of killing animals to protect livestock being raised for slaughter apparently is too complex for simple minds. Let the wolves roam where they may, their role in maintaining eco balance is immeasurable. The ranchers are responsible for protecting their livestock not the government, not taxpayers.

Candace Reffrus...
Fri, 11/22/2019 - 9:09pm

I used to live in Seney, & I used to have a black wolf circle my home when we had puppies. In this same house i also while walking home in late dusk seen what I thought was one of my dogs in the yard, but he wouldn't respond to my calling him. As i approached my "dog" calling him he just stood there frozen. So unlike him. Something wasn't right, I approached slowly, uncertain. As I got about the length of a volkwagon bug away I realized this was not my dog it was a wolf! I froze for about 3 seconds realizing it was alone. I began backing up, around the corner of my home, then bolted for the door! The wolf had never moved. Greg the owner of the BP gas across the street actually seen the black wolf. Circling my home wich was on the corner of M77S & M28 across the street from the DNR station.

Nancy Warren
Sat, 11/23/2019 - 9:19am

I sometimes hear these stories. And when I question the person and ask if they (or any of their neighbors) feed deer or any other wildlife and nearly every time the answer is "yes". Wolves, like bears, can be attracted to a food source. Feeding dogs outside, feeding deer, bird feeders that may attract deer, food plots, discarding food scraps, gut piles etc can all be attractants.

Timothy M Tingstad
Sat, 11/23/2019 - 2:28am

In one paragraph, two inaccuracies I can speak to firsthand:
Anders Tingstad was a district judge-not a circuit court judge.
He worked one day a week in Ontonagon Co. Most of his time was in Gogebic Co.

Sat, 11/23/2019 - 9:34am

May I suggest, we kill all wolves coyotes, deer, elk, or ANY, animal, plant that had killed a human. Then we may see what a vital roll they play in out survival. Don’t forget to kill humans as they kill probably kill more than the other combined. This is the policy, you want? Think again!

Sat, 11/23/2019 - 10:16am

If people would stop taking their homes away from them them there wouldn't be so many wolf encounters and their lives wouldn't be endangered! It's a shame.

Sat, 11/23/2019 - 10:26am

No need for wolves!
We have sufficient predators already.
This reintroduction will only cost money to the taxpayer!!

Nancy Warren
Sun, 11/24/2019 - 12:01pm

If you are concerned about CWD, then you should read the latest research which suggests wolves may limit the spread of CWD. Research also suggests that wolves contribute to biodiversity in our forests. In the words of Aldo Leopold “The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.

Sat, 11/23/2019 - 11:06am

Since a comment was made regarding TRump and impeachment stating no evidence, think on this point:
Dana Milbank
November 22, 2019 at 5:40 p.m. EST
In their candid moments, Republicans grant that the impeachment inquiry poses legitimate questions. “All of that is alarming,” Rep. Mike Turner (Ohio), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told CNN after the release of a deposition transcript. “This is not okay."

Yet there was Turner at Thursday’s impeachment hearing, repeatedly denouncing Democrats and the witnesses for turning up “hearsay” evidence. He accused former National Security Council official Fiona Hill, a witness, of testifying about “things that you heard about other people . . . which were not necessarily true.” Said Turner: “No matter how much we believe we know that what we’ve heard is true, it is still just what we’ve heard.”
That’s rich. After supporting the administration’s attempt to keep key figures — Giuliani, John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney — from testifying, they dismiss as “hearsay” the testimony of those who cooperate. After supporting the administration’s refusal to comply with subpoenas for documents, they claim there is insufficient evidence implicating Trump.

Why? The few documents cooperating witnesses have brought with them, in defiance of Trump’s orders, have been damning. This week, Defense Department official Laura Cooper told the impeachment panel of two emails showing Ukrainians were aware on the day of Trump’s now-infamous call with Ukraine’s president that U.S. aid had been suspended — knocking out the key Trump defense that the Ukrainians didn’t know until later.

Two emails, one dead talking point. No wonder Trump’s approach to emails has a familiar ring: Lock them up!

Sun, 11/24/2019 - 10:51am

This article has nothing to do w/ the impeachment hearings. Nothing. If you'd like to blather on about your political views, go somewhere else.

As for this article, I appreciate the excellent reporting. It sounds like a couple of people should probably lose their jobs for lying to and misleading the public. If cooler heads would prevail, a reasonable solution to the increasing wolf population should be attainable.

Sat, 11/23/2019 - 6:41pm

Shoot, shovel n shut up...

Mon, 11/25/2019 - 6:22pm

Note from the article, Dykstra is from Zeeland - a long ways from Ontonagon. He clearly didn't care or didn't know how to protect his cattle. There are lots of cattle raised in the UP, and they do very well. We used to raise them and watched the wolves along the back fence line and never lost an animal - including free ranging dogs, ducks, geese, chickens, goats . Our farm was a UP farm and designed to protect our animals from all of the local predators - including bears, coyotes, wolves, fishers , and stray dogs, quite unlike the farms in SW part of MI. In addition just as predators didn't get in, our cattle did not get out unless a gate was open. Not sure about DyKstra's, but he got paid with tax dollars so no real motivation to protect.

Tue, 11/26/2019 - 1:16pm

I worked with Terry Minzey - utterly not surprised that he’s included in this mess. He was an unprofessional, self serving, abusive a-hole.

Tom Roach
Tue, 11/26/2019 - 7:25pm

Thank you for your persistence in getting to the truth.

Freedom 1080
Wed, 11/27/2019 - 6:18am

The MIDNR should have used the 10j rule to protect the Michigan deer from the destruction wolves cause. The Bridge report shows a devastation of less deer. The great deer herds between Mass city and Bruce's Crossing was wipe out. Under 10j if ungulate herds fall more 10% they can get Fed approval for killing vermin wolves. The deer herd is down 75% only make sense each wolf needs to kill 35 to 50 a year to survive.
Now the groups you mention the Humane society and Center for Biological Diversity are nothing but greedy lawyers raping the taxpayers. You think these lawyers care about the wolves. Lol what these self appointed greedy lawyers want is a big payday. So Bridge magazine how about doing a report on how many 10's of millions these groups have collected off the backs of hard working Americans. They use the Equal Access to Justice act to get filthy rich charging anywhere from $350 to $750 an hour for all these law suits. All their lawsuits we are talking Billions of dollars. Yes Billions. That's the real story here. Greedy millionaire lawyers raping the taxpayers as small family ranchers are driven out of business.
Clearly this reporter is bias. Nancy Warren is some flake that thinks she is part wolf. Federal law at first said only 50 wolves in UP was required before delisting later changed to 250. Either way the wolves are recovered and should have a hunting season.
Dont be a good reporter and tell both sides of the story or my God actually find out the truth about the greedy money grubbing Humane society whose President just had to resign for sexual assaulting women. Or the Center for Biological Diversity raping the taxpayers. Keep the fraud going help drive more family ranchers out of business. Help millionaire lawyers buy their new BMW and $5000 suits. You're disgusting for supporting this fraud.

Sam Lobo
Mon, 12/30/2019 - 12:42am

You're spot on!

Martha Dahlinger
Sun, 12/01/2019 - 10:39am

Where are the cow herders on the range at the Dykstra farm? A responsible farmer does not leave 700 cows unattended on a 2000 acre farm, especially in the frozen north.

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 6:35am

Cattle farmers have every right to protect their animals and their livelihoods. It’s disappointing that the DNR lied. But more disappointing the federal government is forcing them to by disrespecting the rights of cattle farmers who are protecting their livelihoods.

m. curran
Tue, 12/03/2019 - 7:56pm

What the DNR officials said that was obviously false -- we know now, is the kind of behavior that causes citizens to become cynical about our government. It is shameful.

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 10:06am

Wolves have a place, but definitely need to be managed. Michigan's harvest season didn't even take enough animals to make up for annual pup recruitment. Wisconsin killed hundreds of wolves in three hunt/trap seasons, yet there are more wolves there than ever, and they're negatively impacting northern deer herds, livestock and pets. Deer hunting has a multi-mllion-dollar impact in northern WI and the U.P., and both states are losing hunters tired of seeing fewer deer up north.

Howard Charles Best
Mon, 12/16/2019 - 5:16pm

Let the calves stay with their mothers and let the mothers and other cattle keep their horns!

Sam Lobo
Mon, 12/30/2019 - 12:39am

Another hit piece by Barns...... What he did to Koski was criminal! One Northern Michigan farmer named John Koski is probably the biggest “villain”. I was appalled at what the Michigan Liberal Media did to that elderly Gentleman. There is no doubt that Mr Koski is not going to win too many awards for his animal husbandry. One has to wonder if Mr Koski the 70 year old didn't have the energy to put up new fences, to be moving his cattle in and out of different pastures daily or take care of three donkeys that were expected to scare wolves. NO Doubt he had poor animal husbandry techniques BUT, those putting wolves into his PRIVATE land pastures should hold some of that blame! I can’t think of one 70 year old that has the same energy they had at 30 or 40! Expecting him to put flaggies on the fences and electrify his fence, move cattle a couple times a day, feed their darn donkey’s all so fools like the HSUS can create controversy so “donate now” buttons get pressed. It’s common knowledge that John had had enough and gave up after years of torment from not knowing what the morning would bring on his herd! I don’t blame him for pretty much letting the wolves eat his cattle JUST to prove what the wolves can do! Keeping wolves at the number in the Michigan wolf management plan would have gone a long way at alleviating some of the pressure on John. BUT, the HSUS maximum wolves at maximum cost to taxpayers, livestock owners, pet owners and game herds almost assures us that John would have continuous issues every year for eternity.
To this day, they never changed him with anything that I’m aware of in regards to wolves and livestock depredations . They brought charges against John regarding the mules he was expected to care for in order to scare wolves.

John has since sold that acreage in the wolf saturated Co falling prey to the HSUS & Barnes. Running people off of private lands is what it is about isn’t it? They claim wolves don’t run private land owners off their property…….not true in MI state is it.