Awareness Week events supply open forum for wolf discussion

Amanda Monthei

With the newly-instated Michigan wolf hunt beginning on Friday, Nov. 15, students and community members have the opportunity to learn about and engage in conversation regarding the wolf hunt during Wolf Awareness Week, which began Monday, Oct. 14 and runs until Friday, Oct. 18.

Native American Studies professor Kenn Pitanawakwat speaks to students and community members during an event for Wolf Awareness Week. (Kristen Koehler NW)
Native American Studies professor Kenn Pitanawakwat speaks to students and community members during an event for Wolf Awareness Week. (Kristen Koehler NW)

The second-annual event, which is put on by the NMU Wildlife Society, is offering a series of speakers, ranging from widely-acclaimed wolf ecologists, researchers, Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officers and NMU professors.

While most of the event’s speakers have already visited NMU this week, NMU Wildlife Society President Kayla Ruth said the most anticipated event of the week will be on Thursday, Oct. 17, with a presentation by Rolf Peterson called “The Wolves and Moose of Isle Royale.”

“Thursday night is our big grand finale,” Ruth, a junior biology-ecology major, said. “We have Rolf coming down from Michigan Tech, and he’ll be giving a talk that was a huge hit last year and has gotten a lot of attention this year.”

Peterson, who is a professor in the School of Forest Resources and Environmental Science at Michigan Tech, has done extensive research on the ecology of wolves and their prey. He will speak at 6 p.m. in 2904 West Science.

Other speakers that have come as part of Wolf Awareness Week were Brian Roell, a Michigan DNR officer, NMU alumni Tyler Petroelje — who spoke of his research project involving a Michigan predator-prey study — as well as professor Kenn Pitawanakwat of the NMU Native American Studies Department, who spoke on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

According to Ruth, the event is all the more relevant because of the recent controversy surrounding the inception of a wolf hunt.

“Our biggest goal is that we just want to promote the education of wolves overall,” Ruth said. “This year there is a lot more controversy with the Michigan wolf hunt going on, and as an organization we’ve been neutral on the topic — as are the national wildlife societies.

“However we like to bring in speakers from all sides of the issue, that way anyone who is on the fence about the issue or just wants to learn more can get the information that they need.”

To end the week, Ruth said the NMU Wildlife Society will hold wolf-related workshops and games for children at the Moosewood Nature Center on Presque Isle, furthering the group’s commitment to education regarding wolf ecology.

“Education is our biggest thing,” she said. “We just want people to know what’s going on and what these animals are like.”

The wolf hunt itself, which runs from Friday, Nov. 15 until the end of the year or whenever the limit of 43 wolves have been taken, has accommodated the sale of 1200 total license. The licenses for the hunt were $100 for Michigan residents and $500 for non-residents. The hunt will only take place in a handful of western U.P. counties that have had trouble with wolves in the past, including Gogebic and Houghton counties, while Luce and Mackinac County in the east end of the peninsula will also be allowed a limited hunt. According to DNR estimates from 2011, there are around 660 documented wolves in the Upper Peninsula.

Catherine Parker, who gathered signatures for a referendum aimed at putting the wolf hunt on the November 2014 ballot, and is an employee at the NMU bookstore, agreed that open forums such as the events taking place during Wolf Awareness Week are crucial for acknowledgement of the wolf’s role in the Upper Peninsula.

“It’s important to have an event like this,” Parker said. “When I was talking to Brian (Roell) from where I was sitting up in the audience (on Monday, Oct. 14), he showed us a long list of game species in the state of Michigan, and he said ‘Why do people get so upset about wolves?’ and I said ‘I’m not sure.’

“But I think it has something to do with them being persecuted historically, they are not currently a game animal and people don’t want to get another animal listed.”

While the justification for the hunt is, among other things, that the presence of wolves in the western U.P. is damaging to deer and livestock numbers, the hunt has been met with strong opposition.

253,705 signatures were gathered during the 90-day referendum period following the implementation of Public Act 520, which names the wolf as a game species, in December 2012. While this would have typically forced a ballot referendum for the November 2014 election, it was instead met with Senate Bill 288 (or Public Act 21), which ultimately gave the Natural Resources Committee the responsibility to designate game species. Because the NRC and its decisions can not be subject to referendum, SB 288 became law in May, invalidating the signatures garnered during the referendum process.

Wolf Awareness Week continues at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 17, with Rolf Peterson’s “Wolves and Moose on Isle Royale” discussion in West Science 2904.