Thursday, February 21, 2013

Animal rights activists in Oakland County work to prevent hunting of wolves

This photo of a wolf, courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, was shot by Scott Flaherty.

Recent efforts in Oakland County and throughout Michigan are aiming at overturning a state legislative decision designating wolves as game animals.

This, on the heels of a recent lawsuit filed to get gray wolves back on a federal endangered species list, appears to be only one of the issues surrounding the animal that was deemed endangered a little more than a year ago.

At any event throughout the county, residents can expect to see petitioners outside with their clipboards, asking for signatures to protect Michigan’s wolves.

After wolves were designated — in a December lame duck session in Lansing — as a game animal in Michigan, almost 300 animal rights activists in Oakland County have signed up to collect signatures in an effort to overturn the legislation.
“Michiganders feel very strongly about protecting wolves,” said Jill Fritz, director of activist group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.

Since 2003, wolves have been delisted as an endangered species and relisted four times.

Oakland County volunteer coordinator Pam Sordyl said her decision to volunteer came from her feeling that Michigan was going in the wrong direction.

“We’re losing animals to extinction, and the last we need to be doing is hunting them,” said Sordyl, a Clarkston resident.

She coordinates volunteers to go to events, libraries, township meetings, farmer’s markets — “anywhere there’s a line of people,” she said.

“Most people hear, ‘Want to help protect wolves?’ and they’re very enthusiastic. Many sign up right away,” said Sordyl. “Being a close relative to the dog family — and dogs are well-loved throughout the county — must be why people identify with this type of animal.”
Recent wolf news

More than a year ago, wolves were taken off of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species lists. Fritz said this is just the next step in allowing them to be trophy hunted.

She referenced two other Great Lakes states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, who went through similar steps in the past seven years.

Within months of wolves being taken off those states’ endangered species lists, legislators went to work introducing a hunting season.

“More than 500 wolves have been killed by hunters and trappers in Minnesota and Wisconsin since October 2012, when the wolf hunting and trapping season began,” said Fritz. “There’s certainly been a lot of excitement for pelts or hunting for trophy.”

In any case, she said, after seeing the rush to begin killing wolves in other states, it’s painfully clear that federal protection for wolves is needed for wolves in Michigan.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is attempting to gain enough signatures — 225,000 to be exact — to place a referendum on the 2014 general election ballot to allow voters to choose whether to enact the legislature’s wolf hunting law.

Although she doesn’t know the exact number of signatures have been collected for Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, Fritz is confident her organization will garner enough for a ballot inclusion.

Ed Golder, DNR spokesman, said he thinks a ballot referendum is a bad way to manage complex natural resource issues.

“Hunting hasn’t even been established yet,” said Golder. “The Natural Resources Commission is just now in the process of determining if a hunting season should take place.”
With hunting season on wolves on the horizon, Michigan Natural Resources Commission member John Madigan thinks a lot gets lost in translation for the general public.

“In order to have a hunt, we have to make sure the (wolf) population isn’t going to be placed at risk,” Madigan said.

He said experts will be coming in from Wisconsin

“If there is a hunting season, it will be to manage population ... just like we manage other species, like bear, elk, deer ... the process will be no different.”

The process in Michigan comes during a time when issues surrounding wolves are at a high point.

In the west, several legislators have recently introduced legislation on wolf population management.

On Feb. 12, a group of wildlife protection agencies — The Humane Society, Born Free USA, Help out Wolves Live and Friends of Animals and Their Environment — filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to place Great Lakes area gray wolves back on the endangered species list and give them federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can’t comment on the pending litigation public affairs specialist Georgia Parham said the decision to take federal protection away from wolves went forward because “gray wolves are thriving in the western Great Lakes region.”

In 2011, when wolves were delisted, the population totaled more than 4,400 animals in the core recovery states – Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

“The region's gray wolf population and distribution have exceeded recovery goals since at least 2001 and far exceed minimum population goals in each of the three states,” said Parham, reading from a recent statement.
The problem with the numbers is that they most likely won’t stay that way, said Born Free USA’s Monica Engebretson, a senior program associate.

She cited the methods that some are using to hunt wolves, like baiting, steel trapping, neck snares, night hunting and poisoning.

“The states are reinstating the very strategies that put wolves at risk in the first place,” said Engebretson. “We’re going to be right back where we started.”

While this litigation remains federal, Michigan DNR’s Golder said there’s a possibility that the state may get involved.

Oakland County reacts

Following unconfirmed tips to The Oakland Press that residents were seeing wolves in Oakland Township, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources released that they would be conducting a wolf track survey in the Lower Peninsula and asked for the public’s help in reporting any sightings.

“Given the low probability of observing an actual wolf or its tracks in the Lower Peninsula, it’s helpful to have as many eyes looking as possible,” said DNR wildlife biologist Jennifer Kleitch. “That's why public reports are so important.”

So are there wolves in Oakland County?

“There have been no sightings, to my knowledge, of any wolves,” said Oakland County Animal Control Manager Bob Gatt.

Gatt said that many people mistake coyotes for wolves because of the similar features. However, the DNR’s information on wolves compared to coyotes shows that wolves are nearly twice as large.

Golder confirms that the wolf population remains in the Upper Peninsula and — as of now — he doesn’t have any indication that there’s any population at all in the Lower Peninsula, much less in Oakland County.

The reports of wolves may simply be from people who may have never seen one, said Mark Evans, a Waterford Township coyote trapper.

Evans, who runs Critters Be Gone in Waterford, said he’s gotten many reports from residents saying they saw a wolf in their backyard. In all cases, it has been a coyote — the population of which has been rising since he started trapping four years ago.

Facebook users, on The Oakland Press’ profile page, weighed in Tuesday, giving their thoughts on the legislation, and litigation, surrounding wolves.

Reader Norma Palen said, simply: “Keep wolves as endangered species.”

Jason Henwood, who firmly disagreed, said wolves aren’t an endangered species at all.

“Just cause [sic] they once were doesn't mean they need protection ... waste of time and resources,” he said.

Christine Paige said that just because an animal comes back from the brink of being endangered does not mean people should go “open season” on them.

“Canada Geese are overpopulated, and cause more problems, but you don't see anyone advocating hunting geese,” said Paige.