By Nancy Warren*
(Photo of wolves courtesy National Wolfwatcher Coalition. Reprinted with permission.)
When the Michigan DNR (Department of Natural Resources) receives a wolf complaint, they investigate the situation and, if it is verified that wolves are involved, they take appropriate action. This includes lethal removal of the offending wolves.
Last year, when wolves ventured into an Ironwood residential area, it was determined that two wolf packs were taking advantage of the abundance of deer in the neighborhood. Even though no one was threatened or harmed, DNR killed eight wolves as a precautionary measure.
Livestock owners who experience wolf depredation are granted permits to kill any wolf on their property. In addition, any livestock or dog owner can kill any wolf in the act of attacking their animals. DNR also initiates control actions. Last year, 18 wolves were killed as a result of verified livestock depredation by wolves. These actions were carried out in accordance with the 2008 Wolf Management Plan developed through a process involving 20 diverse stakeholder groups.**
When human-wolf conflicts occur (or are only alleged), they are inevitably followed by considerable media coverage. In one instance, a man near Iron River claimed he was cornered and bitten on his arm by a wolf in his garage. It was the talk of the town, reported as front-page news and was the subject of local talk radio. However, when it was later confirmed through DNA analysis that the bite was from a dog, that fact was barely reported.
In 2010 a man claimed he was treed by "snarling and growling" wolves in Delta County; but, as his story traveled across the country, it began to unravel. He had shared this story with the local press but not the DNR. When DNR heard of the allegation, they attempted to investigate, but the man refused to disclose the location. Coincidentally, the man was an officer of a sportsmen’s group that was vocal in their opposition to wolves. Eventually, the story faded from the press, but the incident remains active in the imagination of those who fear wolves.***
A 2004 Michigan survey found respondents generally had poor knowledge of wolves, noting that public understanding had not improved significantly during the 12-year period following the re-establishment of the wolf population in the UP.
As a result, the Michigan Wolf Management Plan placed a strong emphasis on public education where it states in Section 6.1, "Researchers, managers and stakeholder groups generally agree an informed public is important for successful wolf conservation and management," adding also that "the presentation of accurate, unbiased information is especially important when education is used as a tool to help resolve wolf-related conflicts among stakeholders."
Further, the Plan states, "Providing prompt and professional responses to information requests is one way to increase individual understanding, dispel misconceptions, and generate support for wolf management efforts" (Section 6.1.2).
Last month, DNR verified that three dogs were killed by wolves in three separate instances near Atlantic Mine. Swift action was taken and three wolves were killed within days of the attacks. Yet, the situation was made worse when the DNR issued a press release wrongly stating the third dog was killed by wolves while chained in a fenced yard (the fence was under construction, with the whole back end open).
During an interview that aired May 9, 2013, on Michigan Radio, MI DNR point man Adam Bump said, "So you have wolves showing up in backyards, wolves showing up on porches, wolves staring at people through their sliding glass doors…while they're pounding on it…exhibiting no fear."****
This piqued my curiosity. I knew wolf complaints in Ironwood were down substantially after the eight wolves were killed in 2012. So, I submitted a FOIA request asking for copies of the verified complaints. They responded with a cost estimate of $265.
Then, I revised my request asking only for a copy of the report showing the verified complaints of wolves staring at people through sliding glass doors. My request was denied because, "Based upon our best information, knowledge and belief, the information you requested does not exist in our files. Nor is this material available by any other name reasonably known to the DNR."
Section 6.1 of the Wolf Plan reads, "Controversy tends to receive attention, and the public may receive inaccurate or exaggerated impressions of the extent of wolf-related conflicts."
I couldn’t agree more.
* Guest author Nancy Warren is National Wolfwatcher Coalition Great Lakes Regional director.
** Click here for the 2008 Michigan Wolf Management Plan.
*** Click here for the Nov. 10, 2010, article, "Wolves send U.P. forester up a tree." Note that the article appeared in both the Escanaba Daily Press and the Marquette Mining Journal a whole month after the alleged incident.
**** Click here for the Michigan Radio interview, "Are people in Ironwood really afraid of wolves? (part 2)."