Friday, May 10, 2013

Natural Resources Commission authorizes limited public wolf harvest

By Michele Bourdieu
With information from Michigan Department of Natural Resources Press Release dated May 9, 2013
Comments from concerned wolf advocates added with their permission

Photo of wolf courtesy Reprinted with permission.

ROSCOMMON, MICH. -- At their meeting on Thursday, May 9, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) approved a limited public wolf harvest in three distinct regions of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The decision followed a process of dedicated conversation with the public and experts, along with a thorough review of the pertinent science.

"The recovery of Michigan's wolf population has been a remarkable success story," said Natural Resources Commission Chairman J.R. Richardson. "Today's decision by the NRC supports ongoing scientific management of this game species, just as voters intended when by an overwhelming margin they approved Proposal G in 1996. The public harvest proposal approved by the commission ensures the long-term presence of wolves while providing a valuable tool for managing conflicts between wolves and human populations. This is a thoughtful, science-based decision."

The commission adopted the regulations during its regular monthly meeting, held in Roscommon May 8 and 9, 2013.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, "The regulations establish a limited harvest of 43 wolves in three areas of the Upper Peninsula where wolf-human conflicts -- including depredation of livestock and pets and human safety concerns -- have been persistent despite employing a number of control measures."

Opinions vary on "human safety" concerns

A two-part article on Michigan Radio this week by Steve Carmody, who interviewed residents in some of these problem areas, points out differences of opinion on the extent of this depredation and suggests the proponents of the wolf hunt have exaggerated the degree of "human safety" concerns, since wolf attacks on humans in Michigan are non-existent.

"There have been no wolf attacks on people in Michigan," Carmody writes in Part 2 of his radio report.

He also questions the statement by State Sen. Tom Casperson, who introduced the wolf hunt legislation (SB 288) that became law -- PA 21 -- on May 8, 2013, that people in Ironwood, Mich., are "living in fear." As Carmody points out through his interviews, it depends which residents you talk to.*

Michigan's wolf population has grown significantly since 2000, with a current minimum population estimate of 658. The target harvest is not expected to impact the overall wolf population trajectory, based on published scientific research.

"This decision was the culmination of a long and thorough process by the NRC," said Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Keith Creagh. "The DNR will continue to work closely with the commission to be certain that Michigan's wolf population is managed according to the principles of sound science."

Concerned wolf advocate groups question DNR "sound science" claims

However, citizens concerned about wolves, their role in Nature and their importance to the ecosystem, have challenged the "sound science" claims by the DNR.

"It is disappointing that the Natural Resource Commission chose to ignore sound science and instead listened to and was influenced by outside hunting interests, including the NRA, Safari Club International and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation," says Nancy Warren, National Wolfwatcher Coalition Great Lakes regional director. "There are currently non-lethal and lethal measures in place to resolve conflicts. The wolf hunting regulations which include trapping on public lands will target some packs not involved in depredation and may cause conflicts to increase due to pack disruption."

Warren, an Upper Peninsula resident who has spoken at previous NRC meetings concerning this issue, calls this NRC decision, which follows immediately the May 8 signing of Public Act 21, "a direct assault on our democracy and the right of citizens to challenge wildlife laws."

The NRC vote in favor of the wolf harvest was reportedly 6 to 1.

"We applaud Commissioner Steinman for having the courage to vote no on the hunting of Michigan wolves," Warren added.

Commissioner Annoesjka Steinman is the only NRC member with any credentials related to the environment. In addition to holding holds a master's degree from Grand Valley State University in natural resources management and a bachelor's degree in natural science from the University of South Florida, she is executive director and CEO of the Blandford Nature Center in Grand Rapids, a nonprofit organization which offers 143 acres of walking trails, an interpretive center and animal hospital, a small farm. The Center also features community and school programs.**

Kristi Lloyd of Wolves of the Rockies, who has been involved with wolf hunting issues near Yellowstone National Park and in the state of Montana, has been following the Michigan legislation leading to this NRC wolf harvest decision. She questions the need for the wolf harvest and also challenges the Michigan DNR's claims of "sound science" in their management plan.

"Sen. Casperson used fear-mongering and MISinformation to garner support for killing wolves via a hunt," Lloyd says. "If this situation is so dire then why not deal directly and promptly with the 'offending' wolves? Why wait until November if the situation is so urgent?"

Lloyd notes the laws in Michigan, before PA 21, allow stock growers and pet owners to shoot wolves that attack their animals -- or to have the DNR/Wildlife Services take
appropriate measures.

The Michigan Legislature passed two laws in 2008 to allow livestock or dog owners, or their designated agents, to remove, capture, or, if deemed necessary, use lethal means to destroy a wolf that is "in the act of preying upon" (attempting to kill or injure) the owner's livestock or dog(s). These state laws went into effect upon federal delisting on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. 

"If wolves are killing at the rate that Sen. Casperson claims, why are not more homeowners/stock growers killing these offending wolves?" Lloyd asks. "The hypocrisy is over-the-top -- the proponents of the wolf hunt say that they will use 'sound science' to guide them in creating the regulations of a hunt. Define 'sound'? It seems, though, that over time, 'sound' was used less and it just became science. Well, Michigan has two of the top wolf researchers in the country yet the NRC had experts from other wolf-hunting states testify or give presentations about hunting wolves. John Vucetich wrote a very compelling presentation as to what could happen when wolves are killed. Garrick Dutcher, from Living With Wolves, did as well in a letter to Gov. Snyder." *** 

Wolf regulations designate Nov. 15 - Dec. 31 season in 3 areas

The regulations create three Wolf Management Units (WMU):
WMU A in Gogebic County in the far western Upper Peninsula -- target harvest of 16 wolves; WMU B in portions of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties -- target harvest of 19 wolves; and WMU C in portions of Luce and Mackinac counties -- target harvest of eight wolves.

The 2013 wolf season will open Nov. 15 and will run until Dec. 31 or until the target harvest for each WMU is reached. The bag limit is one wolf per person per year. Firearm, crossbow and bow-and-arrow hunting and trapping (foothold traps only, with an outside jaw spread of 5.25 inches to 8 inches) will be allowed on public and private lands.

Hunters will be required to report successful harvest over the phone on the day of harvest. Once the target harvest is met for a management unit, the entire unit will be closed for the season. Licensed hunters will be required to check daily by phone or online to determine whether any management units have been closed.

A total of 1,200 licenses will be available for over-the-counter purchase, on a first-come, first-served basis, starting Aug. 3, 2013. Licenses will be valid for all three WMUs until each unit is closed. As established by the Legislature, the cost of a wolf hunting license is $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. In order to purchase a license, a hunter is required to have either purchased a previous hunting license or taken a state-approved hunter safety education course.

The NRC’s Policy Committee on Wildlife and Fisheries presented a recommendation to the full commission that included a review of the experience of other states currently engaged in public wolf harvest and testimony from experts in the field with respect to wolf hunting issues, wolf biology and wolf population matters.

"We anticipate that this limited public harvest could both change wolf behavior over time -- making them more wary of people, residential areas and farms -- and reduce the abundance of wolves in these management areas that have experienced chronic problems," said DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason. "We're aiming to decrease the number of conflicts and complaints while maintaining the long-term viability of the wolf population."

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, the organization that collected more than 250,000 signatures to request a referendum on PA 520, the law passed in December 2012 designating the wolf as a game species, has expressed disappointment that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed PA 21 into law (on the same day the NRC met to discuss the wolf harvest).

"The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) coalition expressed its deep disappointment in Gov. Rick Snyder, who (on May 8) signed legislation (SB 288) that circumvents voter rights by allowing the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to establish a wolf hunting and trapping season before Michigan voters can decide the issue in the November 2014 election," KMWP states on their Web site.

Update: Posted May 13, 2013, on Native News Network:
"Michigan Indian Tribal Leaders Respond to Wolf Hunt Approval."


* Click here to listen to or to read Carmody's radio broadcast Part 1. Click here for Part 2.

** The other NRC members have backgrounds in tourism, chemical engineering and the paper industry, surveying, corporate law, and the building trades. Click here to read about them.

*** See our Apr. 29, 2013, article,"Scientists, wildlife advocates ask legislators to consider science in wolf management."  See also "Letter from John Vucetich, wildlife ecologist: Reasons to oppose SB288."

Click here for "Letter to Gov. Snyder from Living With Wolves," by Garrick Dutcher.

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