Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 20, 2013

Wolves still need protection

By Marta Hepler Drahos,

---- — It has always been human nature to vilify creatures we don't understand. From grizzly bears to great white sharks, whole species have been hated and feared for no other reason than their looks and attack stories that seldom take into account the science of animal behavior.

For years the wolf has borne the brunt of this irrational fear, thanks to everything from fables like "Little Red Riding Hood" to movies like "The Grey."

So I was pleased when contemporary mystery writer Nevada Barr attempted to demystify the wolf in her 2008 novel, "Winter Study," based on the seven-week period each year when scientists follow the lives of wolves and moose living on Isle Royale in the Upper Peninsula. Over more than 50 years, the study has revealed the true nature of the little-understood wolf and its struggles to survive in Michigan.

An essential part of the state's ecosystem, wolves were hunted to the brink of extinction in previous centuries, like cougars and wolverines before them. But thanks to federal protection, the species has been making a slow recovery.

Now, just a year after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed wolves in the Great Lakes region from the endangered species list, Michigan politicians and special interest groups want to reverse the wolf population's fragile status, throwing away all the money spent and all the progress made over the last half-century. With only 700 wolves in the state, new legislation signed in December designates the wolf as a game species and authorizes the Natural Resources Commission to establish a wolf hunting season.

The bills's sponsor said that the wolves are "threatening" populated areas in the U.P. This, despite the fact that there has never been a recorded wolf attack on a human in Michigan. In fact, according to experts, wolves are afraid of people and do all they can to avoid them.

Cases of wolves killing livestock are rare and it is already legal in Michigan to kill wolves that threaten livestock or dogs. A combination of state and private funding also compensates ranchers for any livestock losses from wolves.

Nor do wolves kill too many deer. According to the state Department of Natural Resources, the number of deer killed during hunting season across the U.P. in 2012 was higher than in 2011.

No, it's clear that establishing a recreational hunting season on wolves is about providing fun and trophies for a small, but vocal minority — at the expense of a wildlife resource that belongs to us all.

Worse, wolf hunting could mean allowing cruel and extreme practices like baiting, steeljawed leghold trapping, the use of packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves and aerial gunning.

A citizen group called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is leading a fight to let Michigan voters say no to the measure in order to preserve the progress that has been made in the recovery of Michigan's wolves.

I, for one, value our wolves and don't want to see them slaughtered for living-room trophies. The U.P. is one of the state's few remaining magical places, and wolves are a large part of its mystique.