by Jim Bloch / the Voice
The Michigan State Representatives and Senators from the area [of the Upper Peninsula] all voted to legalize the hunting of wolves in their current range, a portion of which falls in the state’s Upper Peninsula.
A number of news stories and backers of the legislation have referred to the population of wolves in the U.P. as “rebounding,” but it fell this year. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the wolf population of the U.P. is 658, down 19 from 687 in 2012. That’s 44 percent of the 43 wolves targeted to be killed in this fall’s newly authorized hunt.
But wolves in Michigan are definitely in much better shape than 25 years ago.
In 1989, according to the DNR, there were three wolves in Michigan, not including Isle Royal, where wolves are now on the verge of disappearing, with only eight animals showing up in the annual January count by Michigan Technological University researchers, down one from last year, with no reproduction reported. Fifty wolves were on the Lake Superior Island in 1980, according to the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minn.
The new bill, which Gov. Rick Snyder signed on May 8, supersedes the wolf hunting bill rammed through the infamous lame duck sessions of the Michigan House and Senate late last year, which gave the legislature the power to establish the wolf hunt.
As a result, the new bill nullifies a petition drive in which opponents of wolf hunting submitted 253,705 signatures to Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to put wolf hunting before voters next fall.
“Gov. Snyder has betrayed the trust of Michigan voters by signing legislation that takes away their referendum right to challenge laws on animal issues,” said Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan’s Wolves Protected, in a statement. “And Gov. Snyder failed to defend Michigan’s Constitution by allowing the democratic process and referendum vote in November to be circumvented.”
Snyder saw it differently.
“This action helps ensure sound scientific and biological principles guide decisions about management of game in Michigan,” Snyder said in a statement after the bill signing. “Scientifically managed hunts are essential to successful wildlife management and bolstering abundant, healthy and thriving populations.”
The new law gives the legislature and the Natural Resources Commission the power to designate game species and establish hunts. The governor appoints the seven-member NRC.
The bill does not allow the legislature or the NRC to declare mourning doves, pets or livestock as game animals. Michigan citizens voted to protect the mourning dove from hunts in 2006; the measure passed in all 83 Michigan counties.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed wolves from the federal endangered species list in January 2012, a move supported by the Michigan DNR.
The Humane Society of the U.S., Born Free, Help Our Wolves Live (HOWL) and Friends of Animals and Their Environment (FATE) filed suit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the USFWS on Feb. 2 to overturn the delisting.
“Although, the gray wolf was one of the first species listed as endangered when Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act in 1973, the gray wolf is currently present across just 5 percent of its historic range,” the suit alleged, among other charges. “Because the ESA mandates protection for a species that is ‘endangered … throughout a significant portion of its range’ … the wolf cannot be legally delisted.”
The new legislation found its strongest backers in the U.P., where politicians and residents argued that wolves increasingly threaten pets and livestock.
Under the DNR’s wolf management plan, which went into effect after the federal delisting of wolves, residents gained the right to kill wolves threatening their animals within strict regulations.
Wolf-rights activists said the existing right to kill threatening wolves at best made the new law redundant. At worst, it had nothing to do with science and everything to do with hunting.
Wolves are social animals and live in family units known as packs with four to 16 members, typically led by two alpha wolves, according to the background information in the Humane Society lawsuit. Wolves live in areas from 40 to 100 square miles in size. If one of the alphas is killed, research suggests that the reproduction of the pack drops by half. If the second alpha is killed, reproduction might cease altogether. In other words, killing one wolf might have a far larger impact on a pack than the subtraction of a single individual.
Wolves prefer to eat ungulates – hoofed animals like deer, elk and moose. They prey on livestock or smaller animals when the wild ungulate population falls or is unavailable. Wolves raise their pups until age 1, when they leave the pack in a process known as dispersal, traveling as many as 500 miles away, which helps them solidify their range and contributes to their genetic diversity. If a mother wolf is taken, it can jeopardize the pups.
At one time, wolves inhabited nearly all of North America. East of the Rockies, their range is now confined to northern Minnesota, Wisconsin and a portion of the U.P.
On May 9, the NRC established the wolf hunt in the U.P.
According to the MDNR website, the season will open on Nov. 15 and run through Dec. 31 or until a total of 43 wolves are taken from three so-called Wolf Management Units: One in Gogebic County in the far western U.P., where the target harvest is 16 wolves; one in portions of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties, targeting 19 wolves; and one in portions of Luce and Mackinac counties, targeting eight wolves. Once the target number of wolves in each unit is killed, the DNR will close the unit to wolf hunting.
A total of 1,200 licenses will go on sale over-the-counter on Aug. 3 on a first-come, first-served basis. Michigan residents will pay $100 per license; nonresidents will pay $500. Prospective hunters must be at least 10 years old to buy a license and already have had purchased a hunting license or passed a state-approved hunter safety course. Each hunter may take one wolf per year until the target number is reached. Hunters may use firearms, crossbows and bow-and-arrows to hunt. Trapping is also allowed, using foothold traps with jaw spreads of 5.25-8 inches.
Hunters must report killing a wolf to the DNR on the day it is killed. Hunters must check the status of the management unit everyday by phone or online to make sure the target numbers have not been reached and the units are still open.
Since humans do not eat wolves, opponents of the law have characterized the new wolf season as a trophy hunt.
Jim Bloch is a freelance writer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.