Last November, Michigan voters sent policymakers a strong message by defeating Proposal 1 (naming wolves as a game species) and Proposal 2 (giving the politically appointed Natural Resources Commission the power to decide which species can be hunted). Proposal 2 was rejected in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties and in all 15 congressional districts.
Six weeks later, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell restored federal protection (after a three-year hiatus) for the Great Lakes gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act, while chastising wildlife managers in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota for killing more than 1,500 wolves in “virtually unregulated” hunting and trapping. The judge’s decision bans further wolf hunting and trapping in those three states for the foreseeable future. It also prohibits killing problem wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin that threaten livestock or domestic animals.
There is a pathway forward and a middle-ground on this controversial issue. The Humane Society of the United States and 21 other animal protection and conservation groups, including the Detroit Zoo and Detroit Audubon Society, have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to “downlist” gray wolves from endangered to threatened. This would retain federal protections for wolves, but also provide more flexible management so wildlife officials could kill or remove the occasional problem wolf. Seventy-nine members of Congress sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell urging her to support the petition. And more than 50 world-renowned wildlife biologists and scientists, including nine from Michigan, sent a letter to Congress urging members to oppose stripping federal protections from wolves.
Presented with a reasonable compromise that would respect the will of Michigan voters who wanted wolf protection, but also provide practical assistance to farmers in the U.P. who are dealing with wolf conflicts, Michigan politicians turned a blind eye to it. Sen. Tom Casperson, the state’s leading wolf hunt supporter, convinced his fellow Republicans to approve a resolution, full of inaccuracies and distortions, urging Congress to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act. Apparently the Upper Peninsula lawmaker’s cronies forgot about his five-minute apology speech in November 2013 for fabricating a story about wolves appearing “multiple times in the backyard of a daycare center” in the text of a similar resolution he authored in 2011.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources filed an appeal of the federal court ruling. DNR Director Keith Creagh said, “Returning wolf management to wildlife professionals … is critical to retaining a recovered, healthy and socially-accepted wolf population in our state” — conveniently forgetting the overwhelming vote of the people rejecting wolf hunting.
It’s obvious that Sen. Casperson and Director Creagh didn’t consult Michigan’s 12 federally recognized Indian tribes, who have the most experience in co-existing with wolves. The United Tribes of Michigan recently adopted a resolution opposing the removal of federal protections for wolves and calling on people to recognize their historical and ecological significance. To these Native Americans, wolves are sacred animals who taught their ancestors the importance of families and how to hunt and forage for food.
It’s unfortunate our state officials thumb their noses at Michigan voters, reject practical compromises and problem solving on this issue and ignore wildlife experts, all in the name of trophy hunting and trapping a shy animal that is just beginning to recover from near extermination.
Jill Fritz is director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.