Many Michiganders who were alive in 1974 will recall it as the year Gerald Ford became the first person from Michigan to become president. Another first was protection of wolves under the newly enacted Endangered Species Act, which provided the opportunity for gray wolves to survive in the northern Great Lakes after decades of inconsistent state management, unabated hunting and trapping and misunderstanding of the wolf's role in the ecosystem.
That protection stood for nearly 40 years until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the Rocky Mountain and Great Lakes population of gray wolves in 2012, leaving management decisions to individual states to determine. Michigan decision-makers now have the opportunity to be guided by the values of Michigan residents, who support responsible wolf management, or by the influence of a powerful minority of trophy hunters and trappers.
First let's be clear, there is no compelling or science-based reason for Michigan to allow recreational killing of wolves. We have a good management plan in place and only 600 wolves. Gray wolves still only occupy 5 percent of their original range after all of the efforts to bring them back from the brink.
But despite this reality, extreme hunting and trapping interests have wasted little time in introducing House Bill 5834, which would add the gray wolf to the list of game species in Michigan, and perhaps open the door for other shotgun predator killing practices from our past.
Citizens have made it clear that they are not ready to support hunting wolves. A 2010 statewide public opinion poll by Michigan State University found that 82 percent of residents value wolves. The study showed, "Most residents, including hunters, northern Lower Peninsula residents and minorities, highly value wolves, are not interested in hunting them and support the role of science in making decisions."
In 2006, the Wolf Management Roundtable — a broad coalition of conservation, wildlife, environmental, tribal, farming, law enforcement and humane organizations — convened to establish guidelines for the Department of Natural Resources if delisting were to occur in Michigan. Its final report concluded that a quota hunt was not a scientifically sound method of addressing wolf management, and advised against addressing conflicts with wolves by reducing wolf numbers. Instead, the roundtable advised wolf-related conflicts are best handled on a case-by-case basis.
As a result, the DNR now has a thoughtful, comprehensive and effective post-delisting management plan that allows farmers and dog owners to take lethal actions when wolves attack their animals. Farmers are compensated for verified losses caused by wolves and a grant is available to provide non-lethal deterrence measures.
It has been less than a year since this plan has been in effect. Let's give it time to work — if changes are needed, let's let good research and Michigan values be our guide, not emotion, hearsay or anti-wolf hysteria.
The Michigan legislature should reject HB 5834. There is no reason to rush into a hunt and jeopardize the recovery that has been 38 years in the making for wolves.
About the author: Jill Fritz is Michigan state director of The Humane Society of the United States.
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