EWEN, Mich. – While the baying over Michigan’s planned wolf hunting season this fall is loudest downstate, in the centers of political power and population, not everyone in this rugged country of the Upper Peninsula where the wolves actually live is keen on the concept.
Nancy Warren, transplanted here more than 20 years ago from the East Coast, lives on the fringe of the wilderness, surrounded by Ottawa National Forest – wolf country – about 90 miles west of Marquette. She sees their tracks, hears their communicative howls, and on rare occasions, catches a glimpse of a wolf crossing the road or skirting the edge of the woods.
While many of her fellow Yoopers endorse the hunting season, which is scheduled to open Nov. 15 and run until Dec. 31, or until the target harvest for each of three wolf management units in the U.P. is met, Warren contends that the science at this point does not support the need for culling the population.
“I think we need to pause, take a look at all of the available research and figure out what it is telling us, and not rush off to hold a hunting season,” said Warren, who served on the Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable, a committee representing a broad range of interests that was charged to come up with wolf management proposals. Warren currently serves as the Great Lakes Regional Director for the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.
“These are highly social animals that live in a pack structure, so there are many dynamics at play. We don’t have that many wolves here, not nearly the number that they have in Minnesota and Wisconsin, so we should be smart about how we manage these animals.”
Wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list in Michigan about 18 months ago, and the 2013 survey by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources estimates there are 658 wolves in the U.P. There is no confirmed population of wolves in the Lower Peninsula.
The total allowable harvest for the coming hunting season is capped at 43 animals, with a bag limit of one wolf per hunter per season. Wolf Management Unit A in Gogebic County, in the far western region of the U. P., has a target harvest of 16 wolves. Unit B, where Warren lives, is made up of portions of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties and has a target harvest of 19 wolves. Unit C is portions of Luce and Mackinac counties and has a target harvest of eight wolves.
Licenses for the wolf hunting season were supposed to go on sale on Saturday, but the state postponed the sale until Sept. 28 “to ensure that license-sales technology is able to handle the expected high demand.”
There will be 1,200 licenses available for over-the-counter purchase, on a first-come, first-served basis. These wolf hunting licenses will cost $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. Hunters need to have completed a state-approved hunter safety education course or purchased a previous hunting license in order to be eligible to buy a wolf hunting license.
Hunters will be allowed to hunt with a firearm, crossbow or bow and arrow, on public and private lands. Any wolf harvested must be reported over the phone on the same day. Once the target harvest is met, the entire unit is closed for the remainder of the season.
“I’m not against hunting, and I won’t fight to stop deer hunting or quail hunting,” said Warren. “I just believe that you should eat what you kill and nobody is eating these – this is strictly a trophy hunt.”
The Michigan Natural Resources Commission and the DNR approve of the hunt, which was promoted in the legislature by Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba, who made the case that a growing wolf population in the U.P. was occasionally using livestock and pet dogs as prey.
Warren acknowledged that there have been some livestock losses to wolves, and that three dogs had been killed by wolves, but she contends that the DNR already had the apparatus in place to deal with such issues and target nuisance animals.
“The DNR makes the claim that the purpose of the hunt is to reduce conflicts with wolves, and that resonates with the public, but our evidence contradicts that,” she said. “Research shows that hunting will not solve that problem – hunters could easily target the wrong animals.”
Meanwhile, the chess moves on the political front continue. The legislature has worked around an earlier ballot measure intended to stop the hunt, and now opponents of the wolf hunt have amassed a huge war chest to push another ballot issue to ban future hunts. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has reportedly collected close to $570,000, with a majority of the funds coming from powerful national animal rights groups, and contends it has the signatures to get the matter on the November 2014 ballot.
Warren admits that both sides in this contentious matter have resorted to sometimes using emotion over science.
“I’m not saying we should never have a hunt, but just not until we have the science to support it,” she said. “The people pushing this are not looking at the role the wolf plays in the fragile ecosystem up here. I feel that it is an honor to live here in the U.P., and no place around compares to this. We just need to be very smart and very cautious about how we approach issues like this.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.