Despite knowing that Michigan voters oppose wolf hunting, Michigan legislators are at it again.
Updated December 9, December 15, 2016
Michigan voters soundly rejected two wolf hunting laws by decisive margins in the 2014 general election. Our legislators responded by passing a new law authorizing the state’s Natural Resources Commission to classify gray wolves as a game species. On November 23, the Michigan Court of Appeals voted with Michigan’s people and overturned the law. State Senator Tom Casperson, who represents the western Upper Peninsula’s 38th District, apparently still hasn’t grasped that Michigan voters oppose wolf hunting. He’s using the lame duck legislative session to give it another try.
Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, wrote the following letter to Michigan’s legislators to remind them – again – that Michigan voters oppose wolf hunting, and she explained why. (Emphasis below appears in the original.)
Dear Michigan Legislators,
Sen. Tom Casperson has just introduced SB 1187, which authorizes the unelected Natural Resources Commission to designate wolves as a game species and open a trophy hunting and commercial trapping season on them, should their federal Endangered Species Act protections be removed. But Michigan voters already voted on almost precisely the same measure just two years ago (Proposal 2), and rejected it in a landslide, with every single county in the Lower Peninsula voting against it (along with Chippewa County in the U.P.). We therefore urge you to honor the expression of the will of the people and not countermand their very explicit judgment (64 percent opposed the Proposal 2).
We also urge you to consider these arguments:
- In the November 2014 general election, in addition to rejecting the idea of turning over a wolf hunting decision to the Natural Resources Commission, voters also rejected wolf hunting as authorized directly by legislators. Michiganders opposed that measure by a double digit margin. In short, Michigan voters rejected, by wide margins, two wolf hunting laws that were submitted as referendum Proposal 1 and Proposal 2. These were the first two public votes on the issue of wolf hunting in the nation, and as a result, Michigan lawmakers have the best data set to support the argument that the public does not support sport hunting and trapping of wolves.
- Wolves in the Great Lakes region, in the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, are currently under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, and cannot be hunted or trapped for recreation. However, if wolves were delisted in the Great Lakes again, two Michigan laws, PA 290 and PA 318 of 2008, would go back into effect authorizing the removal or killing of wolves attacking livestock or pets. In addition, even while wolves remain under Endangered Species Act protection, the U.S. Code does authorize the killing of wolves that are even perceived to be a threat to humans. In short, ample protections already exist for any wolf conflicts. There is no reason for Michigan to authorize wolf hunting while federal law forbids that activity.
- The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) already provides the state’s ranchers with fencing, fladry, and guard animals to protect livestock from native carnivores, and has stated that these methods are highly effective. Michigan livestock owners are also compensated for confirmed or even suspected losses to wolves. Still, cases of wolves killing livestock in Michigan are extremely rare, amounting to just.0005% of livestock deaths in 2015. This percentage is even lower than the USDA’s nationwide statistics, which put wolves at the very bottom, at .2%, of the list of hazards to livestock that include respiratory, digestive, and calving problems, weather, disease, lameness, injury, theft, even vultures. Scientific studies have amply demonstrated, though, that indiscriminate killing of wolves by hunting is not only ineffective at mitigating conflicts with livestock, it could even make those few problems worse by dispersing packs and sending inexperienced juvenile wolves out on their own.
- Wolves are shy and avoid humans as much as possible. On the rare occasion when wolves have been spotted in populated areas of the U.P., it was typically the result of humans drawing them into town by feeding deer, wolves’ preferred prey. But even in those instances, wolves did not threaten or harm humans. However, again, even when wolves are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, they can still be killed by officials if they are even perceived to be a threat. Further, recent stories of wolf sightings on private property in towns such as Marenisco have not been substantiated, nor were official reports of those incidents filed with the Michigan DNR as is required. We should not let irrational fears or irresponsible human behavior be used to justify the trophy hunting and trapping of this vital species.
- Nor have accounts of negative impacts on Michigan’s deer population by wolves been substantiated. The Wisconsin DNR reminds its hunters, “…studies have shown that wolves have minimal negative impact on deer populations, since they feed primarily on weak, sick, or disabled individuals.” And on November 29, 2016, the Badger State announced a 30% increase in its antlered deer harvest—in a region in the middle of wolf country. Here in Michigan, the DNR recently reported that even after years of harsh winters, its 2015 deer hunt showed that “Hunter satisfaction was up this year across all categories measured — number of deer seen, number of bucks seen, overall hunting experience and deer harvested.”
- The recovery of wolves also provides essential benefits to Michigan’s ecosystem. As recently underscored by a Michigan DNR/University of Notre Dame study, wolves play a significant role in the Great Lakes ecosystem by reducing densities of deer, beavers, and other species, even protecting timber stocks and agriculture crops by reducing deer overbrowse. And by controlling deer populations, wolves can also help to mitigate the risk of car-deer collisions. Thus, wolves can benefit agriculture, public safety, water quality, and ecosystem health.
Long before this was confirmed by a wide margin in the 2014 general election, an MSU poll stated, “Michiganders do not support consumptive uses of wolves.” Another MSU survey noted, “Most residents, including hunters, Northern Lower Peninsula (NLP) residents and minorities, highly value wolves, are not interested in hunting them and support the role of science in making decisions.” And a virtual flood of scientific studies in the past few years have made it abundantly clear: there is no justification for killing wolves simply for trophies, out of hatred, to protect livestock, or in a misguided attempt to boost prey species for hunters.
We ask that you respect the mandate from the people of the state of Michigan that was rendered in the 2014 general election, and reject SB 1187 that tramples on that public sentiment.
Wolves are environmentalists!
Apparently believing they were serving the public interest, the U.S. government completed a forced removal of wolves from Yellowstone Park in the early 1900s. By mid-century, the park’s ecology had changed – and not for the better. After the discovery of “trophic cascades” and a decade of argument, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in 1995.
The narrator of the video below reports that as soon as the wolves returned, “they started to have the most remarkable effect!” This is what Jill Fritz was talking about in her letter’s final bullet point.