The battle over protecting wolves continues to rage in Congress, with anti-wolf lawmakers attaching riders to major bills to try to undo federal court rulings and put Congress in charge of deciding which species warrant endangered species protection and which do not. The Obama Administration, and its director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, oppose these overreaching attempts to undo judicial review of listing and delisting actions.
But lawmakers doing the bidding for the trophy hunting and trapping lobbies, at the state and federal level, continue to play fast and loose with the facts.
Last month, in response to an attack on livestock that was actually confirmed to have been caused by coyotes, Wisconsin state Senator Tom Tiffany loudly declared “enough is enough” and demanded that the state be returned the authority to “manage” its wolf population. Also in northern Wisconsin, a sheep farmer recently lamented to a local TV station the loss of 17 of his herd to wolves, and speculated that the wolves had killed the sheep just “for the fun of it” (which wolves do not do). It turns out this farm raises bighorn sheep for Western captive hunting ranches, had substandard fencing, and had not installed electric fencing provided by the U. S. Department of Agriculture to protect its animals from wolves and other native carnivores, and kept its livestock guard dogs tethered away from the very animals they were there to protect (because one of the dogs had allegedly killed a sheep).
And in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, one cattle farm continues to be a flashpoint for wolf conflicts, and its caretaker continues to refuse to allow the use of non-lethal measures to protect his cattle from native carnivores —even though other farms in the area and the state’s Department of Natural Resources have reported tremendous success with providing relatively simple deterrence methods like fencing, guard animals, and noisemaking and fladry devices to protect their livestock.
But the facts on these incidents do not seem to deter anti-wolf zealots from attempting to gin up an atmosphere of fear, hysteria, and resentment over the recovery of wolves in the region, as a means of giving life to riders to the pending legislation dealing with energy policy and also funding of the Department of the Interior.
In truth, the number of confirmed wolf conflicts with livestock in Michigan in 2015 continues to be minuscule. For every 10,000 livestock in the state’s Upper Peninsula, there may be five dead or missing livestock, or .0005 percent confirmed deaths caused by wolves.
The real issue is scapegoating of the wolves as a bit of a cover-up and a bait-and-switch for poor oversight over domesticated dogs and farm animals. In two recent incidents, one in the Thumb area of eastern Michigan and one in the Traverse City/Kalkaska areas of northern Michigan, domestic dogs got loose and killed large numbers of livestock. In the Thumb the dog allegedly killed 280 chickens. In just those two incidents over a short period of time (and possibly many more that go unreported), these domestic dogs have nearly caused more damage to livestock than wolves have caused in the past two decades in Michigan.
Meanwhile, as the media and members of Congress are trumping up charges against wolves – alleging threats to pets, livestock, hunting dogs, and the deer population – factual reports and peer-reviewed scientific studies continue to pour in and debunk these accounts and claims. One recent study out of the University of Wisconsin found that allowing public hunting of wolves actually increases poaching. And Wisconsin deer numbers are rebounding. The Michigan DNR recently reported that its 2015 whitetail deer hunt was successful and garnered high hunter satisfaction. A Michigan DNR/University of Notre Dame study outlined the benefits of wolf recovery on vital plants and trees in northern Wisconsin and Michigan.
I urge members of Congress to disregard the stories of the Big Bad Wolf coming from special interest groups, and to instead heed the science and stick with the facts when considering these and other harmful riders in the Energy and Interior bills.