You might be voting on a wolf hunt in Michigan

Mar 6, 2013

In 1973, there were around a half a dozen wolves in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Today, there are around 700, and some hunters and legislators want to establish a hunting season for the wolves.

Others want to stop that effort.

If the group "Keep Michigan Wolves Protected" succeeds in collecting enough signatures, you'll be asked to vote on a potential wolf hunt in November 2014.

The group has to collect 161,305 petition signatures by the end of March 27.

With three weeks left, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected says it has already collected more than 100,000 signatures.

Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody spoke with Jill Fritz, the director of the Michigan Humane Society and of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.

"At all of the events that I’ve been to...collecting signatures...there’s always several people who come up and say…Oh thank goodness you’re here," said Fritz.

Fritz says the signatures keep coming in.

“It’s a very fluid number because we’re getting in thousands a day," she says. "We’re over a hundred thousand signatures. We’re confident we will reach the goal by the deadline."

In their press release, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected said the state already has plans for dealing with problem wolves, so a hunt is not necessary.

It’s already legal in Michigan to kill wolves who attack livestock or dogs, making a wolf hunting season unnecessary. People don’t eat wolves, so the purpose of a hunt is strictly for bragging rights and trophies. A hunting and trapping season on this still‐recovering species is premature, inhumane and scientifically unjustified.

You can read the state's guidelines for dealing with problems wolves here.

Michigan Radio's Rebecca Williams reported in November of last year that around two dozen wolves were killed under these guidelines.

"...regulated hunting has helped keep recovered species such as elk and wild turkeys healthy."

Some living in the Upper Peninsula argue that a hunt is needed to control the population. John Flesher of the Associated Press reports hunting groups say this petition drive is pushing a 'radical agenda.'

Pro-hunting groups are girding for battle, describing the attempt to block wolf hunting as a direct assault on the state's deeply ingrained shooting sports culture.

"The Humane Society of the United States is just another out-of-state interest group trying to hijack Michigan's ballot to push its radical animal rights agenda," said Tony Hansen, spokesman for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. Eric McDonough, the group's executive director, said regulated hunting has helped keep recovered species such as elk and wild turkeys healthy.

Some who study wolves say a wolf hunt aimed at controlling populations would have to be carefully managed.

Interlochen Public Radio's Bob Allen spoke with Rolf Peterson last fall.

"It's sort of if you kill one wolf, two come to the funeral," says Peterson.

Peterson has studied wolf behavior for more than 40 years. He told Allen that a public hunt can actually have the opposite effect:

He says a public hunt could split the animals into smaller packs and actually increase reproduction.

"It’s sort of if you kill one wolf, two come to the funeral. I mean that’s just a common sense way of expressing the ability of wolves to respond to any sort of increase in mortality," says Peterson.

Peterson says a hunt designed to reduce conflicts with humans could work, depending on which wolves were killed and how many.  But he thinks it would have to be in a very small area.

But Peterson says over the last decade, trained professionals have shown that they can move in quickly and get rid of problem animals.

"Wolf hunting by the public is not about solving problems, for the most part. It’s about people’s desire to kill wolves for whatever reason that might be," he says.

A wolf hunt in Michigan wouldn't happen without it being approved by the state's Natural Resources Commission. John Flesher reports that commission is expecting a report on current wolf numbers and livestock depredation sometime in May or June.

The commission could schedule a hunt as early as this fall in the rural, woodsy Upper Peninsula, where the wolf population is estimated at around 700.

A DNR spokesperson called the referendum on a wolf hunt "unwarranted and ill-advised."