The Great Michigan Wolf Boondoggle

On November 15th, with Michigan law on their side, hundreds of armed men 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 Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) 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 DNR 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 DNR’s actions represents a circumvention of democracy and an abuse of wildlife held in public trust.

I am not opposed to hunting, but my experience as an advocate for imperiled species has taught me to question the judgment of agencies entrusted to act on all the public’s behalf.  The DNR seems to be listening only to the voices of sport hunting’s special interests. Through political maneuvering here in Michigan, they have forced a policy on the public who democratically exercised their right to oppose the hunt.  Such action also violates 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 predation occurs. 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 15, 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.

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 DNR’s stated intent to prevent wolf/human conflict.

Anyone familiar with wolf behavior 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. DNR 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 15, and even 25% of those 300 hunters kill wolves, the quota would be almost double what was allowed by state law.

The DNR’s website contains much evidence that contradicts the notion that indiscriminate wolf killing helps reduce predation on livestock and pets. 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 DNR is allowing those very same houndsmen who provide guided hunts to now offer fully guided hunts for wolves as well as bears and other wildlife.

Let us also not forget the voices of tribal citizens 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 DNR 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. There has never been a documented wolf attack on a human in Michigan. The DNR says this hunt is justified because of attacks on dogs and some livestock. Much as was the case a hundred years ago, the eradication of wolves is being done at the bequest of a handful of special interests, who will  benefit financially from this slaughter.

Michiganders who pride themselves on our rich natural and human heritage should be outraged that public trust wildlife is being sold off to trophy hunters. The DNR 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. The problem in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is not with wolves, but with the DNR who was entrusted to manage the recently delisted endangered species.