By John Vucetich
HANCOCK -- John Vucetich, Michigan Tech associate professor of wildlife ecology and co-director of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study, has submitted a written testimony to be included in legislative hearings related to Senate Bill 288, which was recently passed by the Michigan Senate Committee on Natural Resources and is expected to pass the Michigan Senate, possibly this week. Vucetich, who has authored more than 75 scholarly publications on a range of topics -- including wolf-prey ecology, extinction risk, and the human dimensions of natural resource management, says he expresses his views in the letter as a citizen of Michigan with that expertise and the views are not necessarily those of his employer.
Walking on the ice of Washington Harbor, Isle Royale, are, from left, Don E. Glaser, winter study pilot, Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich, wolf biologists. Peterson and Vucetich are co-directors of the Isle Royale Wolf-Moose Study. (Keweenaw Now file photo © 2008 George Desort. Reprinted with permission.)
Keweenaw Now received permission to publish excerpts from this letter, in which Vucetich says SB288 should be opposed for five main reasons, which we summarize here:
SB288: less science, less democracy in wildlife management
1. The best-available scholarship provides an exceedingly clear explanation that good wildlife management is a judicious balance between best-available science and democratic principles. SB288 would make wildlife management less democratic and less scientific. (author's emphasis) In particular, SB288 gives new management authority to Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC). While the NRC has a valuable role in natural resource management, it is not especially well-versed in the science of wildlife management; and NRC decisions are considerably more insulated from the will of citizens.
Also, wildlife and other natural resources are a public trust, which means that every citizen has an interest and voice in the management of natural resources. By contrast, the NRC has a strong tendency to represent hunters’ interests at the expense of representing the interests of most Michiganders who are not hunters. Hunting is an honorable tradition, and the voice of hunters is valuable. However, expanding the authority to the NRC with the ability to name which species of animals can be hunted is a betrayal of the public trust doctrine.
2) A ballot initiative process to determine what citizens of Michigan think about Public Act 520, which lists the wolf as a game species, has been underway for the past few months. That process has already gained many more signatures than required to result in a referendum vote that would occur in November 2014. Michiganders have democratically earned the right to this kind of referendum. The primary purpose of SB288 is to abort this process. However, the bill does not acknowledge that purpose or even attempt to offer reasons to think that wolf hunting is more important than basic principles of democracy. For these reasons, SB288 is deceptive to a degree that is fundamentally antithetical to democracy. (author's emphasis)
3) The North American Model of Wildlife Management is essentially a set of seven principles held in high esteem by many hunting organizations and wildlife professionals including, as I understand it, many members of the NRC and Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR). The reasons given above suggest that SB288 would work against three of those seven principles: Principle 1, whereby wildlife is to be held in the public trust; Principle 3, whereby management is to be determined through basic democratic principles; and Principle 7, whereby management is to be faithful to the best-available science.*
In November 2010 at the Portage Lake District Library, Dr. John Vucetich, Michigan Tech University professor of wildlife ecology, participated in an environmental ethics discussion led by Michael Nelson, resident philosopher of the Isle Royale Wolf/Moose project. Here Vucetich reads from his contribution to Nelson's book of essays, MORAL GROUND: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. (File photo by Keweenaw Now)
Management principle 5: Adequate reason needed for hunting wildlife
4) Controversy over SB288 is also troubling because it distracts from a much deeper problem: a tendency for advocates of SB288 to advocate wolf hunting, and for detractors of SB288 to oppose wolf hunting. Many advocates for wolf hunting believe that opposition is just one element of a much larger social force to abolish all forms of hunting. In support of their concern, these citizens remind us of the 2006 referendum that precludes sport hunting of mourning doves in Michigan. On the other side of the issue, some opponents of wolf hunting believe that SB288 and wolf hunting represent a path to allowing many cruel and thoughtless forms of hunting.
Citizens on both sides of this issue accuse those on the other side of relying on human and financial resources from outside the state of Michigan in support of their cause. Both sides are correct on this point. However, concerns about big money interfering with politics distract from a serious problem; that is, as a society, we have lost the ability to understand the true value of hunting. Principle #5 of the North American Model states that wildlife should not be killed for "frivolous use." Stated more straightforwardly, we should not kill a living creature without an adequate reason.
Judging what does and does not count as an adequate reason is a responsibility that good hunters take quite seriously. There is legitimate concern that advocates of wolf hunting have failed to offer adequate reasons for hunting wolves. This testimony is not the place to review all the reasons that have been offered. It is sufficient to observe that (i) nearly a quarter million citizens of Michigan, in signing a petition to take Public Act 520 to referendum vote, believe that adequate reasons have not been offered, and (ii) sociological research indicates that non-hunting citizens tend to support hunting when the purpose of a hunt is adequately justified.
Isle Royale wolves in winter. Wolves first came to Isle Royale in about the year 1950 by walking on an ice bridge from Canada. (Keweenaw Now file photo © and courtesy John Vucetich. Reprinted with permission.)
The referendum of November 2014 is a critically important opportunity for advocates to provide adequate reasoning for wolf hunting. Plenty of time exists between now and next November to make the best possible case. SB 288 should be opposed because it seems to work against principle #5 of the North American Model and thus fails to honor the good reputation of hunting.
Questions on MDNR goals of wolf harvest
5) Good wildlife management demands good answers to these three questions: What is the goal of any proposed wildlife management action? How will that goal be accomplished? Why is the goal appropriate? My concern is that advocates for wolf hunting have not provided adequate answers to those questions.
This concern is illustrated by the memo submitted by the MDNR to the NRC (April 2, 2013), which explains the details of a proposed wolf harvest. The memo states that a purpose of the proposed wolf harvest is to protect human safety. 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, with the subsequent hope that some hunter has the good fortune to kill the offending wolf. If genuine human safety concerns are dealt with appropriately then offending and potentially offending wolves would either be dead or living with plenty of fear of humans by the time the next hunting season rolls around. I do not quite see how a harvest is an appropriate way to promote human safety in any appreciable manner.
The memo also implies that the goal of the harvest is to reduce the number of complaints (of nuisance wolves) received by the MDNR. It should not be taken for granted that the number of complaints is an adequate indicator of threats to human safety.
Other key aspects of the memo can be criticized in a similar manner. If wolf hunting is to be good wildlife management, there is a need to evaluate more rigorously whether adequate answers exist for this constellation of questions -- What? How? and Why? And, that evaluation needs to occur in a manner that is accountable to the citizens of Michigan. SB288 seems to work against these interests.
* This particular numbering of the principles is presented at www.rmef.org/Conservation/HuntingIsConservation/NorthAmericanWildlifeConservationModel.aspx.
The original version of this letter was submitted respectfully to Joy Brewer, Michigan House Committee clerk, on 16 Apr 2013 by John Vucetich.