The Michigan Department of Natural Resources took not-so-veiled shots at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's relisting of Great Lakes wolves as endangered last month, in the state's updated draft wolf management plan released Wednesday. "Protection of Michigan wolves under the Federal Endangered Species Act is no longer warranted," one portion of the updated wolf plan states, adding elsewhere, "Regardless of changes in legal status ... wolves in Michigan have surpassed State and Federal population recovery goals for 15 years."
U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in December threw out the Obama Administration's 2012 removal of Great Lakes wolves from the endangered species list. That delisting had enabled Michigan's controversial first wolf hunt in November and December of 2013. "We are frustrated with that ruling," said Kevin Swanson, a DNR wildlife biologist and chief of its wolf program, adding that the updated wolf management plan "absolutely" reflects that frustration
The federal relisting puts on hold any future wolf hunts in Michigan, and followed more than a year of tit-for-tat moves between anti-hunt and pro-hunting groups and the state Legislature. Voters last November rejected two proposals that affirmed the state's ability, through the appointed Natural Resources Commission, to designate wolves and other animals as game species eligible for hunting.
The proposals were put on the ballot following petition drives by the nonprofit anti-wolf hunt group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, with support from the Humane Society of the United States. The group was urging "no" votes on both proposals, so that Michigan voters could have a say on game hunts.
But wolf hunt supporters rendered the two proposals moot with their own petition last summer, which prompted the state Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder in August to pass a new law affirming the Natural Resources Commission will designate fish and game species for harvesting. That law is set to take effect at the end of this month — though on wolves the federal relisting as endangered supersedes it.
The DNR's wolf management plan updates its 2008 plan, and maintains its four goals: maintain a viable wolf population; facilitate wolf-related benefits; minimize wolf-related conflicts, and conduct science-based and socially acceptable management of wolves. While supporting a framework under which a wolf hunt could be considered as a management tool, the plan "does not recommend or oppose establishing a regulated harvest season on wolves."
The DNR also outlined its accomplishments on some of the 2008 plan's goals, including annual surveys of the Upper Peninsula wolf population, expanding reviews of public attitudes on wolves and wolf education projects with farmers and throughout the state.
Nancy Warren, a resident of Ewen in the Upper Peninsula and Great Lakes regional director for the nonprofit National Wolfwatcher Coalition, said she supports the wolf management plan — but not how state officials interpret it and carry it out.
While she agreed Michigan's inaugural wolf hunt was quite conservative compared with those in other states — only 23 wolves were killed — the plan offers no guarantees that wolf hunts wouldn't expand in the future, she said. "That's what I was looking for in this plan that I did not see," she said. "I didn't see, 'We do not support trapping wolves.' There isn't any of that."
DNR officials maintained the hunt was designed to reduce wolf-related conflicts, and the updated report provides new numbers illustrating the extent of such problems. The U.P.'s wolf population is at 636 wolves as of winter 2014, up from 509 wolves in winter 2007. The report notes that from 1998 through 2014, the DNR and U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services verified 249 wolf attacks on livestock on 84 U.P. farms — 9% of all U.P. farms. In its 2008 report, which contained numbers from 1998 through 2007, only 70 such instances were noted, and on 45 farms.
The two agencies also verified 72 cases of wolves preying on domestic dogs in Michigan, with 57% of those attacks involving bear and rabbit hunting dogs in the field. In the 2008 report, there were 40 verified wolf attacks on dogs through 2007, with 43% involving hunting dogs.
Drew Youngedyke, spokesman for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said the organization supports the updated plan, and returning management of wolves to state hands. MUCC has joined the DNR and other states and agencies in a lawsuit against the federal government seeking to overturn the wolf relisting. "Their recovery is a conservation success story," he said. "You have basically one lone federal judge who bought the Humane Society of the United States' very misleading brief.
HSUS's misuse of the Endangered Species Act is not about maintaining this wolf population; it's about eliminating a very specific management tool — a public hunt — that they oppose."
While the courts may take years to sort it out, Warren said there is room to find common ground. The National Wolfwatcher Coalition and Humane Society have both appealed to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, asking that Great Lakes wolves be designated as threatened rather than endangered. It maintains protections but allows farmers to once again kill problem wolves, she said.
"The perception is that we're, 'Never kill a wolf under any circumstance,' and that's not true," she said.
Contact Keith Matheny: 313-222-5021 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sound off on updated wolf management plan
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is accepting public comment on its draft update to its wolf management plan through April 3.
For more information, visit www.michigan.gov/wolves. Comments can be made by e-mail to DNR-Wildlife@michigan.gov or by mail to DNR Wildlife Division; P.O. Box 30444, Lansing, MI 48909