With Michigan wolf hunt less than a month away, debate rages onward

Photo: Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Wolf hunting in Michigan will be legal for the first time starting Nov. 15. Photo: Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Michigan’s first sanctioned wolf hunt is slated to begin Nov. 15. It could also be the state’s last one.

The hunt will continue until Dec. 31 or once 43 wolves are killed, whichever comes first. Licenses in the Upper Peninsula went on sale last month, and though original reports said all 1,200 licenses sold out almost immediately, they didn’t officially sell out until Oct. 4 after a handful of sales were invalidated, according to Michigan Department of Natural Resources spokesperson Debbie Munson Badini.

“It’s a good thing to get this thing off the ground and started,” said state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, who sponsored the bill that established the first wolf  hunting season in Michigan.  “We’re coming at it with a pretty light number, which is good, and we’ll take it from there.”

Though the state sold 1,200 licenses, the hunt will only allow about seven percent of the state’s 658 wolves to be killed. Supporters of the hunt argue it curtails the danger wolves pose to livestock and pets.

But the hunt has been met with sharp dissent from the conservation group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. The organization opposed Casperson’s bill, and collected enough signatures from citizens to put the matter up to a vote on next year’s ballot.

Casperson countered with another bill that gave Michigan’s seven-person Natural Resources Commission power to determine which game can be hunted. Previously, only the state legislature could do that.

After that measure was signed into law by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, the commission soon approved a wolf hunt. That effectively negated the efforts of those trying to let Michigan voters decide on allowing the hunt. Even if a majority voted to stop the first bill, the commission would still hold authority to put wolves on the list of approved game species.

Now comes a new challenge. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is collecting signatures to put the Natural Resources Commission’s authority to set the hunt to a vote, too. If enough signatures are collected, both the measure allowing the wolves to be hunted and the one giving the authority to the Natural Resources Commission to determine the state’s game species will be put to statewide votes in November 2014.

The bill giving the commission the authority to set the hunt was clearly meant to bypass the first referendum, said Jill Fritz, president of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.

“It was the legislature basically saying ‘we don’t care what the voters think, or what they want.’ They wanted their wolf hunt, and they were going to do whatever they had to do,” she said.

Casperson doesn’t see it that way, citing a proposal passed in the 1996 election that gave the Natural Resources Commission power to regulate the taking of game in Michigan. That proposal gave the commission authority to establish rules and dates for hunting seasons, but it wasn’t until Casperson’s most recent bill that the commission’s power to declare specific game species was established.

“When I heard (criticism) that we’re taking the voice away from the people, I had a hard time digesting that in the sense that the NRC was put in place by the people.” he said. “And it said their decisions must be based upon sound science.”

Though both sides claim to have science on their side, John Vucetich, associate professor of Michigan Technological University’s School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science, said the facts don’t support a hunt, especially if the main argument is that it will decrease the number of wolf attacks on livestock.

“The NRC couldn’t possibly be motivated by sound science,” said Vucetich. “If you were motivated by sound science, you would never come to the conclusion that the best way to deal with livestock depredations is to have a general harvest.”

greywolf

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources will allow 1,200 licensed hunters kill up to 43 wolves between Nov. 15 and Dec. 31.

Taking out 43 wolves will make little to no impact on livestock attacks, he said.

“If you do the calculations to figure out how many wolves you’d have to kill, the math doesn’t add up,” he said. “You’d have to kill hundreds of wolves to reduce livestock losses.”

But not all conservationists oppose the hunting of wolves. Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a group that supports hunting and trapping of animals provided “sound, science-based conservation principles are followed,” believes that, over time, the hunt will benefit the ecosystem in the Upper Peninsula.

“It’s a longer term goal. Certainly a one-year harvest is not going to really put a dent in the population,” said Amy Trotter, resource policy manager for the organization.

“We feel that the hunt that’s coming up this year is based on good scientific principles of wildlife management. We’re being very conservative this year, and for future hunts we’re going to learn a lot,” she said.

But while the long-term effect won’t be known for years, many scientists believe a small hunt such as this year’s could make wolf attacks worse by causing wolves to scatter into new, unknown locations, Vucetich said.

“Having resident wolves that have been there for a while is generally better for a livestock owner than having new wolves coming through to a new area,” he said. “Those wolves are not familiar with where the wild prey are, and they’re threatened by wolves that do live in that area, so there’s a good possibility those wolves are going to be interested in taking the easiest prey possible, which would be livestock.”

But the biggest problem is the lack of a defined goal by state officials, he said.

“The DNR has no stated goal for the harvest,” he said. “That’s atrocious. You can’t have wildlife management going on with no stated goal. That’s not sound science and not sound wildlife management.”

Regardless of the arguments, the hunt is on for next month. All 1,200 state-licensed hunters will have the opportunity to kill one of the 43 wolves before the state caps the harvest. Hunters are required to call the Department of Natural Resources every morning they plan to hunt wolves.

When the quota of 43 wolves is reached, they will be instructed to stop hunting.

But if Michigan voters shut down both pro-hunting bills before the 2014 hunting season begins, this November’s hunt could be the first – and last – of its kind.

  • erin

    I think wolf hunting is a waste of resources and time. Atleast with deer hunting you actually use what you’ve hunted but with wolf hunting you’re just killing an animal who’s no profit to you. Also, don’t you think complaining about wolves hunting “your” elk is a bit possesive? Your the one on their territory, how’d you feel if a wolf went into a supermarket, you’d shoot it right? So how can you guy’s complain about wolves hunting “your” elk when they run at the sight of you?

  • Redwingnut

    How many kills will go unreported?

  • Steven

    @ Michael

    I don’t live anywhere close to where I could hunt wolves, but approaches like yours make me support the hunt wholeheartedly. How long till your kind tries to push their views to outlaw my beloved deer hunting (which we use almost every scrap of meat from, I might add)?

  • Disagree_with_scoop

    on everything and everything stated – misinformed data, where are your sources?

  • Daniel

    Scoop, you are the man. By the way Joel, the beautiful thing about hunting, for me, is that it brings me and my dad closer. In all the busyness of this modern age, many sons don’t get time to get away with their fathers. For me, hunting changes that. Even on a day where we don’t see a deer, or a turkey, or a duck, we leave in a good mood, because hunting builds relationships. Also, its hard to rationalize buying a bunch of meat from Meijers when you can go out and get it for the price of a deer tag. Its more, for less. Now the Upper Peninsula has an opportunity for economic growth. Hunting is not a hobby easily given up. Hunter spend big money to get a rare species, and a wolf is no exception. If this years hunt is a success, it might bring hunters from all over the state, and maybe the country, to take part in this experience. More people means more money.

  • fu

    Kill them all, we don’t want them here. They were forced on us In the first place.there was no great vote,there was no voice of the people,especially the ones who live here. They were dumped off and I will do more than my part to wipe them out,hunt or no hunt.

  • Joel

    A hunter wanders into the far reaches of the forest then stops and exclaims, God isn’t this beautiful as he raises his rifle, sets aim then pulls the trigger, killing the aw inspiring beauty, with the words still warm on his lips.

  • Kathleen

    “Michael, are you a vegan, HSUS member and live in a largely urban area away from the real world of wilderness?”

    Why does this matter? He has a right to his opinion without the qualification of his diet, his memberships, or his location. I find this line of questioning as a response to someone’s opinion to border on bullying as it is typically used as a condemnation. Some of us vegans live and recreate in wolf/black bear/mtn lion country as well as recreate (backcountry backpacking) in grizzly country. So what?

    “…estimates of deer killed by wolves often 18-22 per wolf annually, and have seen some estimated to be 30+. In addition to kills, it’s the stress of year-round hunting by wolves very likely leading to deer with less fat reserves (more prone to winter deaths to starvation/exposure) and resulting in fewer healthy fawns born the following year.”

    This is how nature intended it. Fewer deer means healthier deer and fewer wolves. It’s amazing that nature got along so well all those eons without humans “managing” every species for their own goals and desires. As for letting your favorite pet off leash in wolf country, that’s just irresponsible. However, if my dog *were* attacked by wolves in wild land where I was unaware that they were present, I certainly wouldn’t blame them for doing what wolves do…they are territorial animals, just like humans. Of course, when humans do it, it’s called “stand your ground” or the Castle Doctrine. When wolves do it, it’s called predatory, “killing for sport,” or evil. And we all know what kind of “justice” is meted out to wolves.
    http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/sorry_but_wolf_slaughter_is_not_american/

  • Scoop

    Rork, estimates of deer killed by wolves often 18-22 per wolf annually, and have seen some estimated to be 30+. In addition to kills, it’s the stress of year-round hunting by wolves very likely leading to deer with less fat reserves (more prone to winter deaths to starvation/exposure) and resulting in fewer healthy fawns born the following year.

    Michael, are you a vegan, HSUS member and live in a largely urban area away from the real world of wilderness? I’d guess yes on at least two of those. In most cases, hunters take a renewable resource and utilize it for meat, fur and other products. Their contributions to the economies of local communities, the state and nation are real and valuable. In addition, the excise taxes on their equipment funds state fish and game agencies allowing YOU, the non-hunter, to enjoy many wild lands that are managed for all users, not just hunters and anglers.

    Wisconsin hunters/trappers have killed more than 150 wolves in just two weeks this month, impossible if the population was as low as the DNR estimates. The success rate on an animal few even see is high, and last year’s harvest of more than 200 wolves between the hunt/trap season, federal depredation trapping, illegal kills and road kills didn’t even reduce the population. How is taking 43 going to do anything in Michigan? It’s very likely that there are as many killed illegally and road killed each year, and that hasn’t stopped growth.

    Wolves are special animals, no doubt, but they’re a lot more than the “wonderful family animals” you may see on a PBS special. Take a walk with your favorite pet in an area with a known wolf pack. Let it off the leash to run around. When you find just the skeleton and skull left of your beloved family member, tell me how much you love wolves.

    Whether it’s geese, deer, turkeys, bears or wolves, they all need management.

  • Bill

    Michael,

    You should try it sometime. You might like it. Lol.

    #Relax

  • Michael

    Killing for fun is wrong! I will never understand hunting in the modern world. To spend time in the outdoors is wonderful but to spend your precious free time to destroy life is wrong. Life is god’s gift to the world and to think that anyone uses their free time to destroy it for their entertainment is sick. Hopefully sometime in the future all hunting will be ended and will be finally classified as a primitive and barbaric activity no longer allowed by society!

  • Rork

    I actually do advocate professionals or ranchers killing problem wolves.
    It seems better than hunters maybe-killing maybe-problem wolves months later if its depredation you are so worried about. Maybe there’s dispute about just how many wolves we think we want in MI’s UP, I’ll grant that. I haven’t seen our game managers say there are too many.

  • Reality22

    Rork, We both know that some management of the wolf population is already being done by the ranchers, pet owners and sportsman of the UP. To think that wolves will regulate themselves in counties where half the “biomass” is going MOOO make the numbers from wolf scientist mute. Minnesota ran into that situation and the only way to control wolves from moving into these areas was GOVERNMENT TRAPS. Where they “MN” could remove wolves (with threaten status) prior to delisting & WI couldn’t (endangered status) should tell you and I that what Michigan is doing WILL reduce depredation. The problem with what Minnesota was doing is that it max’ed out killing wolves on the Governments dime…… some people love that…..don’t they Rork!

  • Rork

    Scoop, or others:
    I think your claim is that wolves decrease deer available for humans.
    I’ve heard multiple claims of “decimation” and such, all anecdote.
    I think it might be true, but maybe not by much.
    Can anyone point to estimates of how many fewer deer get taken by hunters?

    Our DNR did not mention deer when asking for wolf hunting, and I suspect it was for lack of evidence.
    I do know of estimates of how many deer are killed by wolves, and it’s non-trivial, but that’s not what I’m asking.

  • Rork

    Reality22: Internet search brings much.
    Here’s a paper that uses fairly many sources of data rather than from just one place:
    http://www.aphis.usda.gov/wildlife_damage/nwrc/publications/11pubs/breck113.pdf
    Might be tough on non-statisticians though. I think the only real debate is whether wolf numbers stop growing before their numbers match the available prey, or if available prey determines everything. Either way, wolf numbers will hit a wall. And this study won’t say whether the U.P. has reached peak wolf population or not – it depends on too many little circumstances of the particular location. Data from Michigan might actually shed allot of light on that if we don’t kill too many wolves.

    Support the original old-fashioned wolf hunt bill (PA 520) if you want wolf hunting, but please, not the anything-goes anti-democratic PA 21. If a citizen won’t agree to 520, how on earth can we expect them to agree to PA 21?

  • Reality22

    Norm, can you give me the wolf biologist that backs up your insinuation that wolves are managing themselves. You spread this narrative throughout the web yet every time I call you on it you duck out with your tail between your legs….. PLEASE PLEASE Please tell me whom is backing your fantasy.

  • Harold

    The only “science” now involved with wolves in Michigan is political science.

  • Norm

    Bob, a primer the NRC’s “sound science”: they didn’t like the fact of the decrease in the wolf population survey from 687 in 2011 to 658 in 2013, which shows the wolves are tightly regulating their population at the current numbers, so they decided to substitute wishful thinking instead.

    These counts incorporate a known possible counting error range, so the NRC’s “science” was point out there might have been an overcount of wolves in 2011 and an undercount in 2013 and perhaps no change or even a slight increase in actual wolf numbers instead, totally ignoring it being equally likely the errors occurred in the opposite years and the wolf population had dropped by 8% instead.

    Then they used this as an excuse to tell the DNR to ignore the counts entirely and manage wolves as if wolf populations are increasing at a past rate which, if true, would have resulted in a count of about 850 wolves.

    There is no science involved. The NRC is simply inventing all its numbers instead.

  • Rich T

    I’m so excited about my wolf license I can’t hardly wait for the season to begin.

  • Scoop

    Bill, LOL, there are cell phones EVERYWHERE in the U.P. Guess what? We have the INTERNET, too!! Who’d a thunk a bunch of backwoods hillbillies like us might actually know a thing or two about the very lands we live and recreate on, more than a downstater living in the concrete jungle?

    Forty-three wolves will not impact the Michigan wolf population one bit — none. It won’t even be enough to keep up with next spring’s pup recruitment.

    Between the legal kill in its first hunt/trap season, legal kill among government trappers taking out depredating wolves near livestock farms and illegal kill/roadkill, more than 200 wolves were killed in Wisconsin last year. That did not even impact the winter count this past season, and wolf numbers roughly double after pup recruitment.

    Wisconsin’s quota this year more than doubled, up to 251, plus government trappers are still working on problem packs. In the first six days of Wisconsin’s season, which opened last Tuesday, trappers and hunters took at least 85 wolves in 23 counties! What does that tell you? That there are far more wolves on the landscape than the minimum estimates project. Wisconsin’s success rate last year blew away other states. I’d guess it’ll be similar in Michigan. Trappers who know what they’re doing will have no trouble getting a wolf, as they are far from scarce even though most folks have never even seen one in the wild (except on their trail cameras; yes, we have those up here, too).

    I’m one of those hunters who believes there’s nothing wrong with having some wolves on the landscape, but I can tell you that they need to be managed. Wolves kill far more than the sick, weak and old. You can’t get any “ecotourism dollars” out of them because you can’t sustain a “wolf tour” with downstaters eager to break out their cameras and watch the Disney-like interaction of wolf families. You might fool ‘em once, but when they don’t even see a wolf, think they’ll come back? Hunters, on the other hand, fuel the economies of rural U.P. communities. They’ve seen what a wolf pack can and does do in a deer yard. It’s not pretty.

  • Kathleen

    Good luck containing the hunt, Michigan wolf advocates. A whopping 225 of Montana’s 600-some wolves were killed in last year’s hunt, but that wasn’t enough for livestock operators and hunters who blame wolves for eating “their” elk. The current wolf killing season is already under way; it started with archery season Sept. 7, then general rifle season Sept. 15-March 15 (yes, 6 full months) and trapping Dec. 15- Feb. 28. Any one person can kill five wolves and only a few small zones around Yellowstone and Glacier have quotas. Already 36 wolves have been killed as of today. A week never goes by that I don’t see at least a couple wolf-hatred bumper stickers, emphasizing the political nature of the hunt: decisions made solely on pressure from special interest groups eager to eliminate native predators.

  • Bob

    Decision based on sound science??? Interesting that such statements are seldom backed up by details of where the “sound science” is from . Back them up with specifics, not vagueness . Anyone came such claims if they don’t have to produce evidence.

    Typical of today’s politics that too many buy into.

  • Susan

    The Keep MI Wolves Protected is very active and good organization.
    I have been involved in collecting signatures for the wolves.
    If you would like to help out, here are a few links to get you started-

    Join the campaign to Keep Michigan Wolves Protected > http://action.keepwolvesprotected.com/page/s/signup

    Volunteer to collect signatures > http://action.keepwolvesprotected.com/page/s/collect-signatures

    Thank you.

  • Bill

    You want to hunt wolves? Fine. I sincerely disagree with this management approach though. One, I personally don’t want this hunt to happen. To me, it is based purely on the merits of the almighty dollar than anything. This harvest should be dictated by biology, not politics. Two, 1,200 permits were sold. 1,200! For 43 wolves? Really? How on earth does Senator Casperson think these will be reported? By a cell phone? Considering most of the places people will likely hunt these wolves are in places where cell phones have never even been heard of before, I have a hard time believing many of the “good samaritans” hunting these wolves could get a call out to the DNR to let someone know they killed a wolf at the very time it was taken, let alone report them at all. So how are you going to know at that very critical moment that 43 wolves were killed? How are you going to tell these people out in BFE to stop hunting before MORE than 43 are killed? Smoke signals? Morse code? A Foghorn? No, this entire hunt is a mistake and should be sincerely rethought before we take irreversible steps that would wipe out this species AGAIN…

  • Norm

    The problem with Senator Casperson’s decades-later attempt to unilaterally rewrite the successful 1996 Proposal G is that it, as noted in the article, actually contained no language adding animals like wolves and doves to the game list, and at the time this fact was used by the proponents to reassure voters of the proposal’s limited scope.

    It never would have passed if it had attempted to do what Senator Casperson and those in favor claimed it “intended”. They promised it wouldn’t be used for that purpose.