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The wolf population in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula appears to be holding firm at more than 600, according to Michigan’s latest survey.

The state Department of Natural Resources estimates the population at 614, down from 636 in 2014. The projected 3.5 percent decline is an insignificant change, according to a state expert.

“The confidence intervals of the 2014 and 2016 estimates overlap, thus we can’t stay with statistical confidence that the population decreased,” said Kevin Swanson, a wildlife management specialist with DNR in Marquette, in a statement. He described the wolf numbers as “viable” and “stable.”

Michigan’s wolf population has sparked heated debate among state agencies, conservation groups and residents over how best to manage the number of predators. Clear lines have been drawn over the idea of using state-sanctioned hunts to control the animal’s numbers.

Gray wolves were on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species list for almost four decades when they were removed in early 2012. During that span, Michigan’s population rebounded from a handful to 687 in 2011.

In 2013, Michigan held its first wolf hunt in 75 years. State officials set a limit of 45 wolves for the hunt, but only 23 were killed.

In December 2014, a federal judge returned wolves to the endangered species list, but debate over the danger that gray wolves pose to the livestock and domestic animals of U.P. residents has continued. Michigan residents now can only kill wolves in defense of human life.

In February, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted to lift federal protection for wolves and make the decision immune to court and voter reaction. The Senate is considering a similar measure.

JLynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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