15 hours ago
WHY WOLF HUNTING FACES UPHILL FIGHT IN MICHIGAN DESPITE FEDERAL DELISTING
Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News
Wolf hunts could be returning to Michigan, but they face many hurdles and opposition from wolf admirers who oppose hunts resuming on the once-decimated species.
President Donald Trump's administration in November removed gray wolves from Endangered Species Act protections in the lower 48 states like Michigan where the predators are flourishing — except for a small population of Mexican gray wolves in the Southwest. But outstanding legal challenges and the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden mean the hunting of wolves won't happen soon, state officials said.
The last time gray wolves could be hunted in Michigan was in 2013 when the state Department of Natural Resources allowed for one season of hunting in designated areas of the Upper Peninsula that led to the killing of 23 wolves. The hunt followed a decision in 2011 by the Obama administration's interior secretary to take the gray wolves off the endangered list in part because of their growing numbers.
But a federal judge ruled in late 2014 that the gray wolves should maintain their endangered status.
The last time gray wolves could be hunted in Michigan was in 2013 when the state Department of Natural Resources allowed for one season of hunting in designated areas of the Upper Peninsula that led to the killing of 23 wolves.
The wolves are going to come off the endangered list again on Jan. 4. But DNR officials in the Democratic administration of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer haven't decided when it will happen or if it needs to at this stage.
Biden, a Democrat, takes office on Jan. 20, and his administration is expected to consider reversing the Trump administration's order.
"The department does not think that a wolf hunt should be considered until a few different things take place. One of those is that the legal status of wolves should be more settled," said Cody Norton, the large carnivore specialist in the DNR's bear, wolf and cougar program.
"Obviously, there's a long history of wolves being under federal protection and coming off of federal protections. We would like to see that kind of stabilize and know what it's going to be into the future."
Norton said the Indian tribes in Michigan also need to be consulted about any wolf hunt. Native American tribes were among the supporters of 2014 ballot initiatives that sought to block wolf hunts.
HOW WOLVES RECOVERED
There are 695 wolves in Michigan, almost all of them located in the U.P., according to a state survey from the winter of 2019-20. It was a 5% increase above the prior survey and part of a 40-year recovery from the six to eight wolves that existed in the state in the 1970s and 1980s — after the animals were given legal protection in 1965.
Since 1993-94, combined wolf numbers in Michigan and Wisconsin have surpassed 100, meeting one of the federal goals for delisting wolves in the Great Lakes states. In 2004, Michigan reached its objective of a viable population of 200 wolves for five consecutive years, and wolves were removed from the state's list of threatened and endangered species in 2009.
Wolves in Michigan remain a federally protected species until early next year but can be killed legally only if in defense of human life, according to the DNR.
A 2019 study by professors from Central Michigan and Mississippi State universities and the U.S. Forest Service found gray wolves are reaching a saturation point in the U.P. and could start migrating to northern Lower Michigan. Hunting advocates have argued the predators need to be culled to prevent attacks on livestock and potentially humans.
But wolves don't need to be hunted since conflicts with humans are virtually nonexistent and their attacks on livestock are minimal, advocates argued. They and environmentalists are pressuring the DNR to keep wolves protected.
"My big issue is that there is no scientific need for a wolf hunting or trapping season," said Nancy Warren, executive director and Great Lakes regional director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, which advocates for wolves. She lives in the western U.P. and says wolves traverse her property.
"And DNR has not shown any scientific need for one," she said.
The state's wolf management plan allows and provides guidance for a harvest, like a hunt, "to either mitigate wolf-related conflicts or for recreational or utilitarian purposes," Norton said. The plan will be supplemented with a "public attitude survey" this winter to get a recent look at how the public feels about wolf management, he said.
The U.S. Department of Interior made the decision to allow wolf hunting in such states as Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, but the government has been sued by environmentalists to stop the wolf delisting, state officials said.
Warren and other environmentalists questioned the timing of the wolf delisting just, which occurred before the Nov. 3 election in key battleground states. Biden ended up winning Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
In this Feb. 10, 2006, file photo provided by Michigan Technological University, a gray wolf is shown on Isle Royale National Park in northern Michigan.
But wolves need to be managed better to keep the numbers down to 300-400, said George Lindquist, 65, of Marquette, a hunter and past president of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. That number of wolves is vibrant, he said.
"It's all about trying to keep a balance between predator and prey, and what bothers me is when so many protectionists speak, they all speak like we want to get rid of every last wolf," Lindquist said. "Nothing can be further from the truth. We don't kill every last deer. We don't catch every last fish. It's wildlife management."
No population of animals should go "unchecked," he said, especially wolves. Some wolves are killed by farmers and homeowners protecting their livestock, pets and children, Lindquist said.
DO NUMBERS JUSTIFY HUNT?
Warren said she doesn't agree, adding state officials "misled" the public in 2013 about the need for a wolf hunt to resolve conflicts. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a law allowing the hunt.
The majority of the wolf incidents were at one farm, Warren said.
"By telling the public that we needed this for conflict, that made it easier for the public to absorb," she said. "'Cause if you went around and asked people, 'Do you support killing a wolf because it caused a problem on a farm, a majority of people are going to say yes."
The Detroit News reported last month that coyotes in the Lower Peninsula have done much more damage than wolves since 2012. Michigan has distributed more than $250,000 since then to impacted farmers from its pay-for-prey program, according to an analysis of records by the newspaper.
Coyotes claimed nearly 600 sheep (and 27 turkeys in one Antrim County spree). Wolves claimed 152 cattle, usually calves. The details challenge the notion, often promoted among Lansing lawmakers, that marauding wolves are feared as the most pervasive.
Lindquist argued there is no more "room for more wolves here in the U.P., and they just in-fight when they get to a certain number."
"They are back. They're strong. They're solid. They're not going anywhere," Lindquist said. "Wiping out wolves in any shape or form, I just don't see how we could do it."
DNR officials said the estimate of wolves in the state has been stable for the past nine years and is above recovery goals set by federal officials.
Norton said any support of taking wolves off the endangered species doesn't mean it will be clear to hunt them or lead to a public harvest. "It's not a set thing that will happen," he said.
Still, Sandy Monville, 59, of Ontonagon and a wolf lover, said it makes no sense why wolves would be killed for sport or control with such numbers.
"I just don't know where in the world people hunt an animal where there are 600 animals," Monville said. "Is there really a reason for that? No. It's just ludicrous as far as I'm concerned."
Monville said she doesn't understand why the public, particularly where she lives in the U.P., "just don't get educated on wolves and understand them more other than just automatically hate them because Grandpa Joe did."
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