The Great Michigan Wolf Boondoggle

        On November 15th, with Michigan law on their side, hundreds of armed citizens will take to the woods of the Upper Peninsula to kill any wolf they can find. No, this is not 1913, but 2013 where the Natural Resources Commission’s (NRC) decision to allow the sport hunting of 43 wolves in Michigan is shaping up to be one of the most controversial acts of wildlife management in Michigan’s history.

        This year’s wolf hunt is the result of a legislative strategy by Upper Peninsula politicians and the NRC to circumvent the will of Michigan residents and tribal members who democratically expressed their dissatisfaction with killing wolves in Michigan by requesting that the matter be put to a vote. While the hunt may not threaten the species with extinction, to Michigan’s Native American tribes and the hundreds of thousands of state residents opposed to the sport hunting of wolves, the state’s actions represents a circumvention of democracy and an abuse of wildlife held in public trust.

My experience as an advocate for imperiled species has taught me to question the judgment of state wildlife agencies entrusted to act on all the public’s behalf.  The shady deal brokered by the NRC is the result of listening only to the voices of sport hunting’s special interests. Through political maneuvering here in Michigan, the state has forced a policy on the public who democratically exercised their right to oppose the hunt.  Such actions also violate trust with numerous tribal nations who are supposed to have a say in such matters taking place on or near their lands.

Michigan law already allows for anyone to kill a wolf attacking their pet or livestock. In fact, a law even exists allowing for landowners to obtain permission to kill wolves before predations occur. What this wolf hunt does, and why it should be of concern to Michiganders, is that it allows for as many as 1,200 licensed hunters to enter the field on one day, November 15th, to supposedly kill only 43 wolves. Not just wolves involved or suspected of being involved with the killing of dogs and livestock, but any wolf, including nursing mothers or pups.

Indiscriminant killing of wolves also increases the likelihood that predators that have never preyed on livestock or dogs but instead share a symbiotic relationship with their prey, will be needlessly removed from the pack. This increases the possibility that younger, less dominant and stable wolves will turn towards easy prey such as livestock thereby contradicting the NRC’s stated intent to prevent wolf/human conflict.

Anyone familiar with wolf biology can tell you of the highly structured social order of wolves, and their reliance on individual pack members for survival. What this hunt does is target entire individual packs, threatening to create a chaotic impact on a species only recently removed from the Endangered Species List. The NRC says 43 animals is a conservative “harvest” but offers no strategy on how it can stop 1,200 licensed hunters from killing more once the hunt begins. There is a phone line hunters are obligated to call each day, but if even 25% of licensed hunters take to the field November 15th, and even 25% of those 300 hunters kill wolves, the quota would be almost double what was allowed by state law.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) website contains much testimony from impartial wolf biologists that contradicts the notion that indiscriminate wolf killing helps reduce predations on livestock and pets. In a recent expose’ its become public knowledge that over 90% of recent livestock depredations in the Upper Peninsula occurred on a farm guilty of gross neglect. Non-lethal control methods were provided to the farmer, notably three guard donkeys of which two were found dead and the third in a serious condition of neglect. The DNR also provided fencing which was not used, yet the farmer was still paid $33,000 for wolf-blamed losses.

The majority of wolf attacks on dogs occurs when hunting dogs run freely in wilderness areas and trespass into a wolf’s territory. When this happens, a wolf will defend its pack and home area by attacking the intruding dog. The logical and most effective means to avoid such conflicts is to restrict the running of dogs in areas frequented by wolves. Instead, the NRC is doing the exact opposite and allowing sport hunters who provide guided hunts using dogs to now offer fully guided hunts for wolves as well as bears and other wildlife.

This revelation also brings to light the fact that only seven states in the country allow wolf hunting and over 250 of Michigan’s wolf permits were purchased by out of state residents. These are not farmers and ranchers looking to protect their livestock, but trophy hunters willing to pay top dollar for the chance to kill a Michigan wolf. The NRC even allows hunters to kill deer to be used solely as bait to attract wolves. Now licensed guides and outfitters in Michigan can offer package wolf hunts for thousands of dollars to trophy hunters from all over the world. The DNR’s 2013 Wolf Digest even provides a link for permit applications from the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species to help you transport your dead wolf out of Pure Michigan and into your trophy room.

Let us also not forget the voices of tribal leaders in northern Michigan, who are overwhelmingly opposed to the hunt. The Upper Peninsula tribes have treaty rights that grant them a role in wildlife management issues affecting them. As well, wolves are highly revered in their spiritual worldview.  Despite this, the tribes’ religious freedom and their tribal sovereignty are hugely disrespected with this hunt. The Anishinaabe believe that what befalls the wolf shall befall their own people. First it was the indigenous people who were betrayed and forced from their ancestral homelands, then went their wild relations. The NRC has instituted a plan that sounds less like a decision based on sound science and more like a policy of eradication and removal reminiscent of our state’s dark past.

Hunting wolves in Michigan is more about expanding trophy hunting opportunities in Michigan at the cost of sound science and wildlife management, than it is about avoiding wolf predation on dogs or livestock. There has never been a documented wolf attack on a human in Michigan, but there’s about to be hundreds of attacks by humans on wolves in the beautiful majesty of the Upper Peninsula. Much as was the case a hundred years ago, the eradication of wolves is being done to satisfy the selfish interests of a loud minority.

Michiganders who pride themselves on our rich natural and human heritage should be outraged that public trust wildlife is being sold off to out of state trophy hunters and other big game hunters. The NRC must not ignore its responsibility to its constituent non-hunters and tribal affiliates over the vocal minority of hunters seeking to serve their own special interests. I for one hope that Michigan tribal authorities and national environmental groups will hold the state legally accountable when the blood of our wolves begins to flow on November 15th and the quota is irresponsibly exceeded. The problem in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is not with wolves, but with the NRC who was entrusted to manage the recently delisted endangered species.

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