Potential for wolf hunt results in petition

Amanda Monthei

On Friday, Feb. 15, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected U.P. coordinator Adam Robarge stood at the starting gate for the U.P. 200 sled dog race in downtown Marquette, collecting signatures on a petition that would retract a new Michigan law that would make wolves a game species.

Nearly two months ago, in late December, Gov. Rick Snyder, R-Mich., signed a bill that would designate the wolf as a game animal in the state of Michigan.

While the bill did not make it legal to explicitly hunt wolves, it did open up options for the Natural Resources Commission to see that the animal’s population would be controlled, and as soon as this fall, according to Robarge.

Since Friday, Dec. 28 when Senate Bill 1350 was signed by Snyder soon after the lame-duck session in the Michigan legislature in which it was passed, Robarge has been focused not only on getting signatures, but on providing information to residents of the Upper Peninsula.

“There are days where I’m like, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Is this the right thing?’” Robarge said. “But it’s going well, we’ve got a pretty good acceptance of it around here.”

The controversy surrounding a potential wolf hunt in Michigan has been afflicted with extreme views on both sides of the issue, according to Robarge, who asserts that signing the petition does not put someone into a figurative “left” or “right” position.

“It might feel like it, but you’re really not saying ‘no’ to a wolf hunt or ‘yes’ to a wolf hunt (by signing the petition),” he said. “You’re saying that, yes we should all decide on this. It shouldn’t come out of a Senate Natural Resources Committee of seven people in Lansing, chaired by a senator (Tom Casperson) with no formal scientific background. The petition doesn’t make you for or against a wolf hunt, the petition simply means that you are interested in making that decision for yourself come 2014.”

In Michigan, referendums on legislation can be made within 90 days of the final legislative session in which the bill was enacted. This gives Michigan residents, especially those who are vying for a referendum on the wolf hunt bill, until March 27 to get 161,305 signatures, according to Robarge. If they succeed, the referendum would appear on the ballot in November, 2014. But, while the petition is important to him, Robarge said he is equally concerned with understanding where proponents and extreme opponents of the potential for a wolf hunt stand.

“I would like to understand what everyone’s basis is,” he said. “Where are they coming from? What do they think this petition means?

“The basic question really is, ‘Would a public wolf hunt result in the outcomes that the people who are advocating for it are hoping for?’ And I just feel like where we’re at at this point as a species ourselves, to make that decision ourselves without the data, I just don’t get it.”

The wolf hunt issue applies primarily in the western UP, where wolves have been known to cause problems for ranchers, farmers and dog owners, according to the U.P. Sportsmen Alliance member Dale McNamee.

“We believe that the wolf population in the Upper Peninsula must be controlled,” he said. “We’re not looking to wipe out the wolf population — we think they are a valuable member of animal society — but at the same time, we realize that like everything else, they have to be controlled in order to protect them as well as protect us.”

McNamee has been advocating the potential of a wolf hunt, which could occur as quickly as this fall if the attempts at a referendum fail. He said that the U.P. Sportsmen Alliance, which has more than 40,000 members in the Upper Peninsula, will work cooperatively with the DNR to manage the wolf populations.

“At this point in time, we are advocating that the wolves must be managed,” he said. “We are following the direction of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the people that are involved in managing and controlling the animal in a scientific manner.”

In regards to the petition, McNamee and other proponents are not only worried about a decrease in the deer populations, they are also concerned about the pets, livestock and humans that cross the wolves’ path.

According to NMU student Topher Fast, who is a senior environmental studies major, it’s the farmers, ranchers and dog owners that are the main backers of the legislation.

“Farmers are the ones at the root of the issue, claiming problems of loss of livestock due to the increase in wolf population,” he said. “There are permits to shoot wolves if they catch them in the act, but [there are] also complaints that these haven’t worked.”

From a science background, however, Fast said the decision to allow a wolf hunt is coming too quickly.

“I believe it’s too early to call wolves as game,” he said. “Hunting is only one way to manage wolves and guard dogs are a way to help protect farmers without reducing the wolf packs.”

In a release from the U.P. Sportsmen Alliance, McNamee outlines a few other concerns, including the unfamiliarity of many bill opponents with the locations that are affected by wolf populations.

“The 700 to 800 hundred wolves are not evenly distributed in the state and the only areas that will be targeted will be those with oversized populations with histories of wolf-human conflict,” McNamee said in the release. “If you live in an area without wolves or very few it may be hard to understand that control is necessary.”

However, NMU senior Amanda Weinart, who is a metalsmithing major and a member of the Native American Student Association, said the importance of the wolf is large in local Native American communities.

“It’s important to us to be against the hunt because according to the traditional Aniishnaabe storytelling, the wolf is sacred to us,” Weinart said. “We still feel a connection to wolves, so it’s really distressing that this is happening when there are less than 700 wolves (in the Upper Peninsula).”

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, there were 687 wolves following the last survey in 2010-11.