NRC in best position to decide wolf hunt issue

Gov. Rick Snyder recently signed a bill reclassifying wolves as a game species in Michigan and authorizing a hunt. The Michigan Natural Resources Commission will now decide whether a hunt will actually be held and if it is, how wide its scope would be, how many animals would be killed and by what means.

Meanwhile, a coalition of animal welfare, conservation groups and Native American tribes opposed to a Michigan wolf hunt has launched a referendum campaign, hoping to gather 225,000 signatures to put the issue on the November 2014 ballot.

The Upper Peninsula Animal Liberation Defense’s ballot committee, “Keep Michigan Wolves Protected” hopes to gather the required signatures of Michigan voters by late March in order to qualify for the ballot.

We think the issue of a wolf hunt has become a sensitive topic and both sides of the debate need to curb claims that are exaggerated or untrue.

For example, the wolf hunt legislation stated, “The sound management of wolf populations in this state is necessary, including the use of hunting as a management tool, to minimize negative human and wolf encounters and to prevent wolves from threatening or harming humans, livestock and pets.”

There have been no documented accounts of wolves attacking humans in Michigan.

Likewise, opponents of the hunt – including the coalition – said “Wolves are often hunted via the cruelest and most unsporting methods of killing – including painful steel-jawed leghold traps where animals suffer for hours or even days, shooting wolves over piles of bait, aerial gunning from helicopters and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves.”

This suggests these methods are selected particularly for their cruelty and all would potentially be authorized in a Michigan wolf hunt, which is extremely unlikely.

The coalition said, “People don’t eat wolves, and they would be killed just for fun and trophies. Trophy hunting and fur trapping of this still-recovering species is premature, inhumane, and unnecessary.”

People don’t eat coyotes, bobcats and red and gray foxes either. However, the state allows seasons for these predators without a ballot referendum effort to stop it. Why are wolves the limited exception?

The NRC would likely only allow a limited hunt of wolves in certain areas of the Upper Peninsula where wolf populations are causing problems. This hunt would serve viable biological and social carrying capacity purposes.

Wolf populations in Michigan have exceeded population goals for recovery, one of the qualifying benchmarks to being removed from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Species.

The coalition states, “Opening a hunting season on wolves so soon is premature and could be disastrous to their fragile population.”

With the federal delisting of wolves, their populations must be monitored for several years to make sure they don’t falter. If they do, relisting could be necessary. The NRC will not authorize a widespread wolf hunt without concern for population levels.

NRC Chairman J.R. Richardson said recently the panel will be guided by a management plan the department put together with advice from groups representing interests including hunting, farming, animal welfare and environmental protection. Richardson requested an update on the wolf’s status this month and promised to continue consulting with the public.

“If a bill delegating authority to create a hunt is signed into law, it will be up to the commission to lay out a socially responsible framework for population management on a limited basis to help resolve conflicts in specific areas,” Richardson said.

The bill also establishes a Wolf Advisory Council, which will include representatives from the DNR, tribal government, agricultural interests and conservation, animal advocacy and hunting organizations. The council will report annually to the NRC and the Legislature, making non-binding recommendations for proper wolf management.

As far as letting the voters speak, we did that in 1996 when Proposal G was passed, which gives exclusive authority to the NRC to regulate the taking of game. We trust this panel, with input from the public, will make the right choices in regulating any potential wolf hunt in Michigan.