By Molly Tamulevich
Recently, Michigan’s Wolf Management Advisory Council convened in Gaylord to discuss recommendations and updates to Michigan’s wolf management plan. The meeting was not accessible, safe or transparent, as it was held in-person only with no option for providing remote testimony. The only way to watch the meeting was through a livestream on a trophy hunting and trapping lobbying group’s Facebook page. The procedures followed by this five-person council are the latest manifestation of a system that has failed Michiganders, betrayed wildlife and circumvented democracy.
Life-and-death decisions about wildlife in Michigan are controlled by these small but very powerful groups desperately clinging to outdated cultural norms. Attend a meeting of the Natural Resources Commission or wolf council and you will see how quickly talk of “science-based management” falls apart once someone questions long-held but increasingly unrepresentative traditions like trapping, neck snaring, bear baiting and hounding or wildlife-killing contests.
The practices these groups stubbornly refuse to retire are barbarically cruel and do not even accomplish what trophy hunters purport. Current peer-reviewed science shows that killing wolves and other native carnivores doesn’t help people, pets or livestock. Conflicts are extraordinarily rare to begin with and the best means of preventing them is through non-lethal methods. Furthermore, native carnivores limit their own populations through prey and habitat availability.
The people in power claim the divide over wolves and other wildlife is simply a matter of pro- vs. anti-hunting agendas, but there is more to this than meets the eye. Fewer than 7 percent of Michiganders purchased hunting licenses this year, but they are treated like an influential constituency far larger than their numbers. In contrast, two statewide Michigan State University polls and two ballot referendum votes demonstrate that Michiganders as a whole do not support the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves. Why should a minority exert such tyranny over a treasured natural resource? In economic terms, federal data show that the economic activity generated by hunters and trappers are unimportant to the state’s economy, generating a mere 1.64 percent of the total outdoor recreation spending in Michigan.
We cannot afford to double down on old ways of thinking that set our wildlife management programs up to fail. This includes relying on a pay-to-play model of wildlife management that views any perceived surplus of animals as fodder for human entertainment.
Instead, we must focus on pragmatic solutions to determine our relationship with wildlife that reflect our shared responsibility for wildlife management. We need to build and protect wildlife corridors and crossings, prioritize the health of our land and water and elevate and celebrate wildlife rehabilitation and habitat preservation. We must renew the conversation about management in a manner grounded upon the idea that wild animals have intrinsic value and that we should not take their lives without a good reason to do so.
About the author: Molly Tamulevich is the Michigan director for the Humane Society of the United States.