Roughly nine months ago wolves were taken off the endangered species list in Michigan for the first time since being placed there in 1973.
On Thursday, Nov. 29 a possible wolf hunting season got one step closer to becoming a reality as Senate Bill 1350, backed by Republican Senator Tom Casperson of Escanaba, passed in the Senate with a 23 to 15 vote.
Senate Bill 1350 does not permit a hunt, but rather designates the wolf as a game species. If the bill receives a majority vote in the House, it will be turned over to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC). The NRC acts as the decision making body for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The NRC is a seven-member group that is appointed by the governor. Great Lakes Regional Director of the National Wolf Watcher Coalition, Nancy Warren said the NRC looks like a safety net on paper but that’s not always the case.
“On one hand it is really good that it’s going to be in the hands of biologists and the Natural Resources Commission, however, where the bad side of this is, is the Natural Resources Commission are political appointees,” Warren said. “So even though the legislator doesn’t make the rules and regulations, the board that does is politically motivated.”
In 2008, Michigan established a Wolf Management Plan. The plan was set up to maintain a healthy wolf population, minimize wolf-related conflicts and conduct science-based wolf management methods.
Part of the plan deals with wolves causing depredation of livestock on farms. Currently, if farmers can prove depredation of their livestock was caused by a wolf, they are reimbursed. If the problem continues, they are permitted to obtain a permit to hunt the wolves.
Bear and fur bear specialist for the DNR, Adam Bump, supports following the plan but would like the wolf to be designated as a game species to give the DNR and NRC another option.
“The section of the plan that is most relevant is 6.10, basically what it outlines is in certain circumstances, public harvest could be a useful tool to help reduce wolf-related conflicts and that, that tool would be used in conjunction with other tools such as non-lethal techniques to avoid depredation,” Bump said. “It would just be one other tool that might be useful to try to resolve some of those larger scale conflicts situations.”
Warren believes that there are already enough non-lethal tools in place to manage wolves and depredation issues.
“We really think we need to allow the plan time to work,” Warren said. “Now the DNR is saying they would welcome the opportunity for another tool to manage problems. Well we already have the tools to manage problems.”
Warren believes that if the wolf is designated as a game species and turned over to the NRC, there will ultimately be a wolf hunting season in Michigan.
“DNR supports the designation of the wolf as a game animal,” Warren said. “The fact that the DNR gets to establish the rules and regulations, DNR supports the hunting season. The writing is on the wall, there is going to be a hunting season.”
Bump said the DNR is committed to the Wolf Management Plan but does hope the 1350 passes to give them another option in dealing with wolves, should the need for a hunting season arise.
“We’re supportive of the bill and having wolves designated as a game species so we have the ability to have those discussions and those are probably something that will occur once the bill passes, if it passes,” Bump said.
Warren said her coalition can find common ground with the DNR, but the groups need to work together to educate society on wolf behavior and shake the stigma that comes with the animal.
“We believe the fears and prejudices that caused the wolves to come in danger in the beginning still exist today and they’re just manifested in these recreational hunts,” Warren said.
For more information check out www.wolfwatcher.org or www.michigan.gov/dnr