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Thursday, March 18, 2021

An Uncertain Future for Michigan Wolves

By Nicholas Wilson*

The Gray Wolf, recently removed from the Endangered Species List, is now in danger of a potential wolf hunting and trapping season in Michigan. (Photo © Wolf Conservation Center, Salem, NY, and courtesy Nancy Warren)

On January 4, 2021, the Gray Wolf was officially removed from the Endangered Species List. Delisting eliminated the federal protections provided to wolves by the Endangered Species Act and returned management authority to the states. Now, Michigan is considering a wolf hunt.

State Senators Ed McBroom and Jon Bumstead introduced a non-binding resolution to the Michigan Senate (Senate Resolution 15) urging the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to authorize, and the DNR to organize, a wolf hunting and trapping season in 2021. The NRC Consists of seven members appointed by the Governor, and has "exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game and sportfish, and is authorized to designate game species and authorize the establishment of the first open season for animals through the issuance of orders."

On March 9, the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 15 (SR15), bringing Michigan one step closer to a wolf hunt. Following this adoption, the Michigan DNR reiterated its position on wolf hunting and trapping. The DNR affirmed that before considering a wolf hunt Michigan’s Wolf Management Plan should be updated, a new wolf public attitude survey should be conducted, and Native American tribes should be consulted.

Wolfwatchers' Nancy Warren dispels myths about wolves

On February 25, the Upper Peninsula Environmental Coalition (UPEC) held a virtual event featuring Nancy Warren, Executive Director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition (NWC). Warren’s presentation -- titled "The Big Bad Wolf; Or is it?" -- provided scientific information on the Gray Wolf and discussed the consequences of delisting and the potential for a 2021 Michigan wolf hunt. After sharing background information on wolf physiology, behavior, and identification, Warren addressed several common myths about wolves.

Nancy Warren's slide presentation for UPEC questions myths about wolves and presents scientific facts. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

The first of these myths is that wolves are dangerous to people. Warren explained that, despite frequent media portrayals of wolves as aggressive and violent, in reality the majority of animal-related human fatalities are caused by livestock, dogs, insects and deer rather than wolves. Human hunters are actually far more dangerous to people than wolves are.

This slide illustrates Warren's explanation of why wolves are mostly afraid of people. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

"100 people are killed annually in the country by hunters," Warren said. "We’ve had two fatal attacks by wolves in all of North America in the last century and none in the continental United States." Inset photo: Nancy Warren. (Keweenaw Now file photo by Allan Baker)

Many people also believe that wolves are a great risk to livestock and domestic animals. But again, the data says otherwise. In 2018, 2019, and 2020, the total number of cattle taken by wolves in the UP was 6, 5, and 6 respectively.

"The risk to livestock is extremely low especially when compared to other losses experienced by producers such as weather and medical issues," Warren explained.

In this slide Warren notes how humans can take responsibility to keep wolves at a distance and respect their habitat. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

Additionally, Michigan law guarantees that the State will compensate farmers for missing livestock if the farmer has any prior verified wolf depredation.

Another common misconception is that wolves are overpopulated in the Upper Peninsula and the Midwest. Warren presented DNR data on wolf populations in Michigan and Wisconsin from 1980-present. This data indicates that there are between 1018 and 1041 wolves in Wisconsin, and about 700 wolves in Michigan (found almost exclusively in the UP). Warren explained that the Michigan wolf population has remained stable for the past 10 years.

She also dispelled the myth that wolves are devastating the UP deer herds.

"Even though our number of wolves has gone up, the number of deer killed is staying pretty consistent. It’s weather not wolves that has the greatest impact on deer populations," Warren said. "I believe, and the statistics show, and the science shows, that there are enough deer on the landscape for both wolves and human hunters." 

Warren cited statistics to show that UP deer herds are not being devastated by wolves. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

Despite their often-negative public perception, wolves play an important ecological role. Wolves manage the beaver population (their second favorite food), and strengthen the deer herd by eliminating the weak, sick, and injured. In doing so, wolves may also help to prevent diseases like CWD (Chronic Wasting Disease) and EHD (Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease) from establishing in the UP deer population. By keeping deer herds moving, wolves also create better habitat for plants and animals of all kinds.

Warren shows in this slide how wolves actually strengthen the health of the deer herd. (Photo © and courtesy Nancy Warren)

"They alter the deer movements -- which allows forest and habitat regeneration simply because the deer spend less time in one place," said Warren. "It creates a rippling effect throughout animal and plant communities."

Wolves can also provide an economic benefit to the areas that they inhabit.

"In Minnesota, the International Wolf Sanctuary adds about $3 million to the local economy and created the equivalent of 66 full-time-jobs," Warren noted.

Ojibwe cultural views of the wolf

In addition to ecological and economic value, wolves have great cultural significance to the Ojibwe people. Dr. Jonathan Gilbert, Director of the Biological Services Division at the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC), explained the importance of wolves in Ojibwe culture.

"The Ojibwe people think about Ma’iingan, the wolf, as a brother or sister. Their stories say that whatever happens to one of them will happen to the other," Gilbert said.

"When we think about wolves and wolf management in our modern-day view, we talk about population goals or objectives. We talk about potential for harvest seasons. That’s our western science way of looking at it," Gilbert continued. "But when you put that into the cultural context of the tribes, you start to think: what should your population goal be for your brothers and sisters, for your family? What should your harvest quota be for your relatives? How many of your relatives should we kill?"

The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community recently issued a Resolution opposing Senate Resolution 15 and calling for consultation with tribes according to the 2002 Government-to-Government Accord. The Resolution states, in part, the following:

WHEREAS: The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community believes the gray wolf is not an appropriate species to harvest for subsistence purposes, its numbers cannot withstand a rapid depletion by recreational hunting and trapping without danger of being relisted as threatened or endangered, and depleting numbers of wolves will upset the ecological balance between predator and prey; and ...

WHEREAS: The 2002 Government-to-Government Accord gives Michigan and the twelve Federally Recognized Indian Tribes the right to consultation, which provides the opportunity for tribes to provide input and recommendations on proposed actions to governmental officials responsible for the final decision, and also provides the right to be advised of the rejections (and basis for any such rejections) of such recommendations, and the state of Michigan has yet to provide the tribes the chance for meaningful consultation regarding issues surrounding a 2021 gray wolf hunt; and

WHEREAS: Michigan law already contains adequate means to address and remediate depredation and conflict involving gray wolves; and

WHEREAS: Ma'iingan, the wolf, is our brother. We believe our lives are parallel to one another, a shared destiny, as the wolf and the Ojibwe people have suffered the same fates. What shall happen to one of us shall also happen to the other. Each of us will be feared, respected and misunderstood by the people that later joined the Earth. History has proven that both Ma'iingan and the Ojibwe have lost our lands; we both have been persecuted and pushed close to destruction and hunted for our hair.

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED THAT: The Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Tribal Council formally states their opposition to Michigan Senate Resolution No. 15 and any change in the laws of the State of Michigan by which a 2021 wolf hunting and/or trapping season is allowed.**

Wisconsin wolf hunt: "outright slaughter"

In neighboring Wisconsin, a 2021 wolf hunt already occurred. Unlike Michigan, Wisconsin has a law that mandated that a wolf hunt be conducted as soon as the species was delisted. Despite objections from Native American groups, widespread opposition from the public (a majority of public comments submitted to the Wisconsin Natural resources board opposed the hunt), and legal challenges, Wisconsin approved the hunt after the group Hunter Nation won a legal battle that effectively forced the state to do so. On February 22, the Wisconsin wolf hunt began.

Wisconsin’s DNR set a quota of 119 wolves for the weeklong hunt, but ended the hunt early after 216 wolves -- about 20 percent of the state’s total wolf population -- were killed in just 3 days.

"It was an outright slaughter," said Warren. "Every zone was exceeded. 119 was the quota and they went over it by almost 100 wolves."

Notably, the Wisconsin hunt occurred during the wolf breeding season.

"As a biologist, I would never advocate for having a wolf season during the breeding season. That just doesn’t make any sense," said Gilbert. "They arbitrarily put a hunting season into place. The science was definitely not followed and they did not honor their obligations to talk with the tribes."

Gilbert noted GLIFWC members reported at a recent meeting that half the wolves killed in the Wisconsin hunt were female.

"They were talking about mothers and babies being killed," he added.

SR15 would allow 2021 Michigan wolf hunt

With delisting and the introduction of SR15, Michigan now may implement its own wolf hunt. The Michigan DNR Wolf Management Plan stipulates that hunting and trapping can be used  "as a management tool for addressing conflicts that cannot otherwise be resolved" and recommends "evaluating local situations on a case-by-case basis, and then applying the assistance of hunters and trappers, as prudent to reduce wolf-related risks to acceptable levels."

"If a problem on a farm can’t be resolved in any other way, then we could use hunters on a case by case basis," Warren clarified. "But it wasn’t quite applied that way when we had our only wolf hunt."

In 2013, wolves were temporarily delisted and Michigan held a 45-day wolf hunt during which 23 wolves were killed in the Upper Peninsula. 

"One (wolf) was killed within 5 miles of a farm that last had a depredation in 2011. Three were killed 5 miles from a farm that last had a depredation in 2012," Warren explained. "When there is a depredation it needs to be addressed timely. Killing an animal 5 months after the event is not going to resolve that farmer’s problem."

Although the 2013 hunt was initiated largely because farmers alleged that wolves were killing their livestock, many of the reported wolf depredations were questionable. One farmer, John Koski, accounted for 96 of the total 147 livestock losses that were used to justify the wolf hunt. But later investigations revealed that Koski failed to utilize good animal husbandry practices and did not properly dispose of animal carcasses. Multiple unburied cow carcasses as well as deer limbs were found on Koski’s farms. Koski received thousands of taxpayer dollars and over 2,500 hours of DNR support to help avert wolf attacks. In 2014, Koski was charged with animal cruelty for starving three guard donkeys that were provided to him by the DNR to deter wolf attacks.

Senate Resolution 15 also frames the potential 2021 hunt as a population management tool, saying, "A managed wolf hunt in the state is a viable means of ensuring stable wolf population numbers." But this claim, and several others in the resolution, are not based on science.

Dr. Rolf Peterson, Michigan Tech Research Professor and the principaldic investigator of wolf-moose relations on Isle Royale National Park for 50 years, responded to some of the claims made in SR15.

"Wolf numbers in Michigan have been stable for the past decade, in the absence of significant managed wolf hunts (with the exception of one year)," Peterson said. "It is likely that a managed wolf hunt would actually reduce stability by affecting wolf density, age structure, territorial relationships, and reproductive rate."

SR15 states, "Wolf hunting allows the wolf population to be kept at levels that ensure the overall survival of the animal but limit potential wolf and human conflicts."

Peterson disagreed, saying, "It is contrary to logic that wolf hunting will ensure…survival of the wolf. The 2015 Wolf Management Plan stipulates that the basis for a wolf harvest should be to reduce conflict. There is no indication that that goal was achieved by the one legal hunt held in Michigan several years ago."

SR15 also suggests that there is no need for a statewide public attitude survey or study before initiating a hunt.

Peterson replied, "Worldwide, public attitudes about wolves are one of the most polarizing issues in wildlife management. The stated intent of the Department of Natural Resources is to assess current public attitudes about wolves, which would be an obviously prudent next step. There is no wolf population crisis or pressing human need that would argue toward anything but an informed, measured process."

Dr. Peterson also recommended that interested individuals read the principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which is frequently used by states in making wildlife management decisions. Inset photo: Dr. Rolf Peterson (Photo courtesy Michigan Tech University)

Friends of the Land of Keweenaw (FOLK) recently noted in their Spring 2021 Newsletter that they signed a Resolution in Opposition to a Michigan Wolf Hunting/Trapping Season, presented by Nancy Warren to the Michigan DNR and Natural Resources Commission (NRC) in February. FOLK's Annual General Membership Meeting will be held via Zoom from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, April 15, with the International Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota. The program will be "How to live with Wolves."***

At the March 11 meeting of the Michigan Natural Resource Commission (NRC), the commissioners listened to almost two hours of public comment regarding wolf hunting and management. Many of the comments came from hunters and trappers in support of a wolf hunt. These proponents cited a variety reasons for an imminent hunt. Several commenters claimed that wolves are overpopulated, that they are detrimental to the deer herds, that human-wolf conflicts are increasing in Michigan, and that an imminent hunt is necessary to preserve a healthy ecological balance. These claims are not supported by data or scientific studies.

Several commenters voiced opposition to the wolf hunt, noting the positive ecological and economic impacts of wolf populations. Some commenters also advocated for collecting more data and public input before implementing a hunt.

Jeffrey Towner, a resident of Negaunee Township and a wildlife biologist, who served as field supervisor for the North Dakota U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service field office from 2002 to 2014, objected to Senate Resolution 15 calling for a wolf management plan but also calling for a wolf hunt before that plan can be completed and without allowing public input from the people of Michigan.

"There is no credible scientific study I am aware of that indicates a wolf hunt is necessary to the effective management of the gray wolf population of Michigan. Wolves are a keystone species in an ecosystem that serves to improve the fitness of prey populations such as white-tailed deer," Towner said. "Also human-wolf conflicts are extremely rare."

Towner noted DNR Director Daniel Eichinger has said a revised wolf management plan should be completed by June of 2022.

"That is a responsible timeline. There should be no rush to judgment on a wolf hunt," Towner said. "The DNR should be encouraged to carry out their work, including data collection, analysis, public input and informed management decisions."

During the same March 11 NRC meeting, Molly Tamulevich, Michigan State Director of The Humane Society of the United States, also expressed opposition to wolf hunting and trapping as well as her concerns about the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) being selected to represent conservation groups on the Wolf Management Advisory Commission.

Commenting on the recent wolf hunt in Wisconsin, Tamulevich said, "Michigan truly cannot afford to become the next Wisconsin. Following the delisting decision, our DNR stated that before a hunt would even be considered, 'the legal status of wolves should be more permanently settled,' and the agency plans to update the state’s 2015 wolf management plan, hold a public opinion survey and consult with tribal nations. Michigan must hold true to those commitments of transparency, public input, and consulting sound science."

Tamulevich added, "Allowing wolf hunting and trapping at any level has dire consequences like destroying pack structure and leaving yearling pups to starve."

As for the MUCC, Tamulevich pointed out that they really do not represent conservation groups, since most of their member organizations are hunters and anglers.

"Their website specifically states that they are, 'the foremost power in Michigan protecting the rights to hunt, fish and trap,'" she noted. "There is no reason why this wolf advisory committee should be so disproportionately represented by an organization that has repeatedly stated that its objective is to override the clear mandate of Michigan voters and open a wolf hunting and trapping season in our state."

Warren shared her own comments with NRC committee members, noting there is no scientific basis or need for hunting and trapping wolves in Michigan: "The Michigan DNR has made it clear that before a wolf hunting season will take place, they want to update the Wolf Management Plan using the best available science, conduct a public attitude survey (even though Michigan voters, by an overwhelming majority, said no to a wolf hunt) and consult with the tribes. This resolution (SR15) circumvents the DNR’s planned actions and contradicts the current wolf management plan. There is no scientific need for a wolf hunt. Livestock losses have been extremely low. The population has remained steady for the past 10 years and weather, not wolves, has the greatest impact on deer survival."

Like Tamulevich, Warren also expressed her concerns about the imbalance of representation on the Wolf Management Advisory Commission, since not one wolf organization is represented -- although they were in the past -- and MUCC is essentially a pro-hunting organization.

The members appointed to the present Commission are the following:

Dick Pershinske -- Farm Bureau
Bee Friedlander -- Attorneys for Animals
Miles Falik -- GLIFWC
Amy Trotter -- MUCC
Mike Thorman -- Hunting Dog Federation
Dan Kennedy -- DNR

Warren concluded her UPEC presentation saying, "We need science-based management decisions, not management through legislation based on fear and misinformation."****

Editor's Notes:

* Keweenaw Now guest writer Nicholas Wilson is a Keweenaw resident and free-lance journalist.

** For the full text of the KBIC Resolution, see the Anishinaabek Caucus Facebook page post by Andrea Pierce.

*** Watch for a future announcement on how to access the April 15 FOLK meeting.

**** Click here for a video recording of Nancy Warren's UPEC presentation.

Concerned citizens opposed to SR15 are encouraged to contact State Senator Ed McBroom by phone at (517) 373-7840 or by email via his Web site.

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