Saturday, July 13, 2013

National Wolfwatcher Coalition: Michigan DNR lacks transparency, ignores public opinion on wolf harvest

By Michele Bourdieu

Photo of wolves courtesy Wolfwatcher.org.

LANSING -- Nancy Warren, National Wolfwatcher Coalition Great Lakes Regional director, made the trip from Ewen, Mich., down to Lansing for the July 11, 2013, meeting of the Natural Resources Commission (NRC). On their agenda, for the second time, was the question of a public harvest of wolves. In May the commission approved a wolf hunt under Public Act 520 of 2012; but that decision was suspended because of the approval of a statewide referendum on PA 520 -- petitioned by more than 250,000 Michigan voters.

At the July 11 meeting the NRC voted under a new law, Public Act 21, which gives the NRC authority to name an animal (including the wolf) a game species.

Before the vote, Warren presented to the NRC the National Wolfwatcher Coalition position in a statement that is now posted on wolfwatcher.org.* The statement addresses the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Order 13 and Wildlife Order 14 -- Designation of Wolf as Game and Wolf Regulations.**

"The National Wolfwatcher Coalition supports the management of wolves when sound scientific methods are used," Warren's statement/letter begins. "We support non-lethal measures to manage wolf conflicts and the lethal removal of wolves when non-lethal methods fail despite the best efforts of producers to follow good animal husbandry practices."

Warren points out specific statements in the Michigan Wolf Management Plan that call for educating the public about wolf-related conflicts. She quotes the Plan as saying, "'Providing prompt and professional responses to information requests is one way to increase individual understanding, dispel misconceptions, and generate support for wolf management efforts.'"

Noting some of her own experiences in trying to obtain information from the DNR and high fees she was charged for FOIA requests as well as the DNR's blatant refusals to release information, Warren continues, "However now that politics and lobbying groups have largely replaced science, we are seeing a renewed lack of transparency within the DNR. Requests for information are now being stonewalled. The public is being charged excessive fees for information that is in the public’s interest to know. It appears the delays are a deliberate attempt to withhold information because if the truth was known, the DNR could not justify a hunting season as proposed. How many verified livestock depredations have there been since lethal control was implemented? How many verified wolf complaints that meet the standard of human safety concerns have there been since the eight wolves were removed in Ironwood Township? What are the Michigan Nuisance Wolf Management Guidelines? We could not obtain the answers prior to this meeting but it seems reasonable to expect the NRC would want this information, too."

Warren added she was finally able -- after much delay and payment of a $58 fee -- to obtain 7000 public comments sent to NRC about the wolf issue.

"Based on a random sample they appear to be overwhelmingly opposed to a wolf hunt," she said.

Still, for the second time, the NRC ignored public opinion and at their July 11 meeting took action to name the wolf a game species in the state and approve a limited public wolf harvest in three distinct regions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"Public Act 21 affirms the critical importance of managing natural resources in Michigan on the firm foundation of science," said Natural Resources Commission Chair J.R. Richardson on July 11. "Today's decision supports ongoing scientific management of wolves, just as voters intended when by an overwhelming margin they approved Proposal G in 1996. Managing wildlife through science is far better than managing wildlife through ballot questions, which some organizations support for Michigan. The conservative public harvest proposal approved by the NRC ensures the long-term presence of wolves while providing a valuable tool for managing conflicts between wolves and human populations."

According to the July 11, 2013, DNR press release on the NRC decision, "the regulations establish a limited target harvest of a total 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."***

In her statement to the NRC, Warren notes many unanswered questions about the DNR claims of depredation and human safety concerns.*

Warren told Keweenaw Now she found the NRC decision "very disappointing." Nevertheless, she noted the Michigan Board of State Canvassers has approved the language of a second petition form -- this one seeking a referendum on PA 21.

The DNR Western Upper Peninsula Citizens Advisory Council will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Monday, July 15, at Cloverland Community Center, 102 S. Cedar Street in Ewen, Michigan. Click here for the agenda, which includes public comment as well as a wolf bill update from the DNR Wildlife Division.

Notes:

* Click here to read Nancy Warren's July 11 statement to the NRC.
** Click here for Wildlife Order 14: Wolf Regulations as Game Species.
*** Click here for the DNR's July 11 press release on the NRC decision.

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