Wolf Story

        Late last fall, Ray Krumm, 63, went for a walk on an old gravel farm road near his home in the Michigan Upper Peninsula’s Otter River Valley. Off in the distance, he saw what he thought to be a pack of turkeys crossing the road, but when he approached he found it to be two large gray wolves splayed across the gravel. “The big alpha was about the size of a medium deer,” he said. “As soon as they saw me, they started moving in the opposite direction.” Krumm ran back to the house to find his wife and grab the binoculars to see the animals trotting across the clearing in their backyard. “There’s definitely an awe about seeing them in real life,” he says “They’re such powerful and beautiful animals.”

      This is the third time that Krumm has had a wolf encounter, but the first in his own backyard. Wolf numbers are bouncing back to stable population levels in the Upper Peninsula for the first time since their near extinction in the early 1900’s. Incidentally, increasing wolf numbers has led to more conflicts, resulting in an intense debate on how wolves should be managed within Michigan. In March, The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Campaign successfully stalled the Natural Resource Commission from establishing an annual wolf-hunting season by petitioning for a referendum on the 2014 ballot challenging the game species status. However, a bill is passing through the floor of the state congress that would discount the efforts of the campaign, allotting the designation of game species solely to the National Resource Commission, who could bypass legislation completely and open up a hunting season as early as next fall. Whether or not Michigan actually adopts a hunting season may change how citizens are involved in wildlife management in the state.

        Currently Michigan holds slightly over 700 grey wolves exclusively in the Upper Peninsula, comprising the smallest population in the Midwest. This number has risen over 300% since 2000 levels, resulting in increased conflicts. According to the Department of Natural Resources, in 2012 there were 73 depredations to livestock and dogs caused by wolves, a number almost seven times the amount in 2000. The DNR has officially recommended a hunting season in three problem areas of the Upper Peninsula with a targeted harvest of 48 wolves.
        The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign, funded by the Humane Society of the United States, was assembled as a response to a bill proposed in October 2012 by Upper Peninsula Senator Tom Casperson, which gave the wolf game species status in Michigan. Despite testimony from concerned citizens, Native American groups, and wolf scientists, the bill was passed in both houses and signed into law late December. As a result, many who spoke up against the bill teamed up with help from Humane Society of the United States to collect the signatures needed to challenge the bill.
        The campaign’s mission was to turn the wolf issue into a political question of citizen rights, claiming that Michiganders should be included in deciding how their state’s wildlife is managed. Recruiting hundreds of volunteers state-wide, it collected over 250,000 signatures. Participants feel that Casperson’s bill is a threat to the recently delisted species, and does not reflect sound scientific conclusions, but the values of a vocal minority of hunters and trappers. “Michiganders care about their state’s wildlife,” says campaign director Fritz. “They should be concerned that this can happen so quickly in their government without true scientific information.”
        While the state tallies up the signatures Senate Bill 288, also introduced by Senator Casperson, attempts to take the responsibility of designating game species away from legislators and to give the Natural Resource Commission more control over wildlife management, on the basis that the NRC makes decisions based on biological science. The Bill has not yet been voted on.
        The strongest supporter of the hunt is the Michigan United Conservation Clubs. Amy Trotter, the club’s Resource Policy Manager who sits on the state’s Wolf Management Advisory Council, sees the wolf hunt as a way to resolve the conflicts voiced by citizens in the Upper Peninsula. “We’re not looking to eliminate wolves,” she says “but we prefer to do something active to manage this animal. Currently, people see them as a danger. A hunt may eliminate negative perceptions of wolves if people know that they are being properly managed.”
        However, Rolf Peterson, research professor at Michigan Tech University and prominent wolf researcher, has said that there is not significant scientific evidence to support the need for a hunt. “My position is that a harvest should only be implemented if a problem presents itself that can only be only be solved by harvest,” he says. With current methods for eliminating problem wolves in place, he doesn’t see a need.
        In fact, he points out the potential important roles that wolves could be playing in conifer forest regrowth currently threatened by deer overgrazing, the reduction of disease spread in deer and moose, and even improving safety for humans on the road. “The most dangerous animal in Michigan is actually the white-tailed deer. It kills thousands of people per year. Wolves by that standard are not dangerous at all,” he says. In fact, there have only been two recorded human deaths by wolves in North America in the 21st century.
        Wolves are notorious for inspiring strong reactions in people, both positive and negative. The question is whether or not a productive and scientifically sound management plan will result from the politicization of this topic in Michigan, if the issue does end up as a vote. On the other hand, if the new Senate bill passes, people may see the state government in violation of democratic process. As a self-proclaimed naturalist, Krumm hopes to see the wolves stay off the game species list. “But there are a lot of strong opinions about this issue,” he says. “I hope they don’t get in the way of the right decision for the animal.”

About mauraniemisto

I am a senior at the University of Michigan with a concentration in Program in the Environment. I also have minors in International Studies and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology.

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