Friday, April 26, 2013

Guest Editorial: There and Back, Again

By Adam Robarge

MARQUETTE -- For the second time in less than a month, I found myself this past Tuesday (April 23) making my way around the Capitol Square in Lansing. I had spoken at a press conference on March 27th to announce the submitting of over a quarter million signatures that hoped to protect Michigan’s gray wolf from being hunted. I had declared that as Michigan citizens, "we endeavored to become a model in wildlife conservation --  and a point of organization to forward thinking individuals across our entire nation." Two weeks later with the introduction of Senate Bill 288 and its House chamber companion, House Bill 4552, my words and the thoughts they invoke found themselves at risk of being silenced. So I returned to Lansing on Tuesday with every intent of defending them.

Adam Robarge, author of this article, is now the director of Wild Land Guardians, a Marquette-based grass-roots group advocating for wildlife and wildlife habitat. In January, February and March, he worked with Keep Michigan Wolves Protected on the petition drive for a referendum on Michigan's PA 520, legislation designating the wolf as a game animal. Here he is speaking about the petition during a presentation at the Portage Lake District Library on Feb. 9, 2013. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected collected more than a quarter of a million signatures for the petition, far more than the necessary minimum of 161,000 signatures. (Photo by Keweenaw Now)*

As I sat in the offices of our Senators and Representatives, I soon discovered that it wasn’t only my voice that was being silenced or ignored. It was truth.

The day began with a rally on the Capitol steps in opposition to SB 288 and HB 4552. As the winds picked up, a collection of activists and concerned citizens huddled in close before the podium. It was a sea of determination speckled with red, as we all wore hats silhouetted by a gray wolf, with the question "Will of the people, endangered too?" I had given nearly everything to this campaign over the course of a cold and snowy UP winter.

At times I questioned my actions, my beliefs. I always returned to the endorsement of Dr. John Vucetich. Here was a wolf biologist, co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study and a lead researcher of the annual Isle Royale Winter Study. Who could argue with that? I stood there that morning as did many others, needing no further validation for what we had accomplished.

In front of the Capitol building in Lansing, Dr. John Vucetich, Michigan Tech professor of wildlife ecology and co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study, speaks during the April 23, 2013, rally opposing SB 288 and HB 4552 -- both of which would allow the Natural Resources Commission to decide on a public harvest of wolves. (Photo © and courtesy Adam Robarge)

Instead, we listened intently for words to rally around, words to keep us moving forward. Listening so intently, people often forgot to cheer at opportune moments, rather remaining focused upon what would be said next.

Dr. Vucetich spoke of science, and in truths. The recent DNR population survey does not actually suggest that the wolf population in the Upper Peninsula is declining. The correct interpretation is that the population is leveling off, naturally. So the DNR suggests that the proposed hunt is to protect human safety, rather than population control.  

Dr. John Vucetich addresses the crowd at the April 23, 2013, Rally against wolf hunt legislation, saying, "Hunting is not a tool for dealing with human safety (issues). If there is a threat in April, you can't wait until the next hunting season six months from now, with the hope that some hunter will have the good fortune of taking the offending wolf. It just doesn't work that way." **

However, Dr. Vucetich appealed, "Threats to human safety, when they occur, had better be dealt with swiftly, precisely, thoroughly and immediately. Protecting human safety cannot wait until the upcoming hunting season."

Discussing the decline in hunting and the increase in negative attitudes toward its practitioners, he told us, "Studies show that the public will overwhelmingly support hunting methods when given good reason to do so."

Dr. Vucetich added that hunting the wolf will result in a further mistrust of this act steeped in our cultural heritage. There exists no good reason to randomly hunt members of the gray wolf population. It may be as simple as this. Hunting without reason is killing.

We then sat by his side in the offices of legislators while he attempted to educate them. For we are told that these bills -- now named the "Scientific Wildlife Management Package" -- are meant to encourage just that -- science. But they weren't listening. This was an expert, a scientist from our own state of Michigan sitting in front of them. Our legislators remained fixed on the idea of outside interests and their information. They remained fixed on representing a portion of inside residents, and their phobias. Certainly, nuisance behavior is found to exist within the gray wolf population -- within any population, for that matter. And losing livestock or a pet, or feeling threatened by wolves, is not something to ignore. But a random hunt is not the answer. Data exists that suggests this may actually increase unwanted behaviors. And that is an outcome none of us are looking for.

A sign at the April 23 rally expresses the view that SB 288 and HB 4552 are not based on scientific data. (Photo © and courtesy Adam Robarge)

It's hard to know how or where to keep fighting when our legislators won't see science or listen to truths. Senate Bill 288 passed the floor with a vote along party lines on Thursday, April 25. It now moves to the House Committee on Natural Resources. We must implore our Representatives -- Dianda, Kivela, McBroom, and Foster. Implore them to hear their other constituents, to provide us answers based on science and truth. Implore them to hear you. We are running out of time. I returned home believing the only option for us is to keep fighting, despite the defeats. The truth will shine through, for it is all that truly exists.

It is my feeling now to demand that they at least represent us as equally as possible, no matter what their final vote says. I want to see that science has truly been brought to the table, whether it is merely to be debated or actually seen as an amendment to the bill. If the gray wolf is to be hunted, I want it transparent to everyone that all measures were rightfully considered and that a framework to be followed when making such designations be put in place. Only then should this bill be voted upon.

Editor's Notes:
* See our Feb. 15, 2013, article, "Video report: Presentation on wolves offers facts, petition signing opportunity" on this presentation at Portage Lake District Library in Houghton.
See also this March 10, 2013, article by Greg Peterson, "Petition signing to protect wolves continues in Marquette."

** See "Letter from John Vucetich, wildlife ecologist: Reasons to oppose SB288," posted on Keweenaw Now April 16, 2013

Click here for the present version of SB 288 as passed by the Michigan Senate on April 25, 2013.

Click here for the present version of HB 4552, which has been referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.

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