Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Great Divide: Michigan's Inaugural Wolf Hunt

If there's one conservation issue that has been most pressing in Michigan as of late, it most likely has to do with Canis lupus, the Gray Wolf. Once common throughout the Great Lakes region, wolves were nearly hunted to extinction over the past century. As the logging industry became more prominent in the 1800s, wolves were decimated by hummers across the region. By 1838, wolves were extirpated from southern Michigan. By the early 1960s, wolves had become almost completely extirpated from Wisconsin and Michigan, with the exception of Isle Royale in Lake Superior. It was at this time that the two states took action with Wisconsin listing the Gray Wolf as an endangered species in 1957, with Michigan following suit in 1965. This protection finally gave wolves a chance to recover, though the road to re-establish them would be a long one. In Michigan, the wolves were isolated to Isle Royale and very few were seen in the rest of the Upper Peninsula. Things finally changed in the late 1980s when a pair of wolves was found in the central part of the U.P. The pair had pups in the summer of 1991. This would be the beginning of one of the greatest conservation success stories in North American history. Since 1991, the wolf population has gradually increased to where it is today, with an estimate of over 700 wolves in the Upper Peninsula according to the DNR.

Gray Wolf near Seney NWR, © Teresa McGill

So wolves has made an incredible comeback here in Michigan, that's good news right? Not exactly. Many residents of Michigan's Upper Peninsula are downright angry with the return of the wolf to the northwoods. Reported conflicts between wolves and human interests have become increasingly troublesome, particularly over the past five years. The most notable of these conflicts are between wolves and domesticated animals, such as livestock and dogs. However, the Michigan DNR has legislation in place to compensate farmers for the full financial cost if an animal is lost. Depredation events involving dogs and wolves have also become a problem, which you can read about on the DNR's website. According to the DNR, the majority of these depredation events occur with bear hunting dogs. Via the website, "Dogs, especially those used for hunting bear, are at risk of being attacked by wolves because they: (1) traverse large areas, which increases their chance of coming near or encountering a homesite; (2) are released at bear bait sites that also may be used by wolves; (3) bark while tracking, which may be viewed as a territorial challenge by wolves; and (4) are oftentimes some distance from the hunters and therefore not protected by the presence of humans." So, hunting techniques and baiting for bear are just as much of a factor as the wolves are in this situation. Despite some of these facts, the DNR opened Michigan's inaugural wolf hunt on November 15th, the hunt runs until December 31st. As of today, December 5th, 19 wolves have been harvested across the tree management units in the Upper Peninsula. You can follow updates on the wolf hunt here

One of the first Wolves taken in the Wolf Hunt, ©

I'm not here to argue one way or the other about the wolf hunt. Wolves are incredible animals and are one of the true faces of the northern wilderness. After so much time, money, and effort was spent to bring them back to the Great Lakes region, I'd hate to see them disappear once more. With that being said, protecting human interests with these predators is just as important. The wolf hunt may very well become a ballot issue for Michigan voters in 2014, so keep yourself informed. Reading comments from hunters which support the hunt have been concerning. "Kill them all for all I care" and "the only good wolf is a dead wolf" are things I've seen thrown around. Like snakes, it seems as though many peoples attitudes towards wolves contain blind hatred and little understanding. I hope that the DNR's plan will help balance the conservation needs of the wolf with the human interests of residents of the Upper Peninsula. And above all else, that wolves will hang on in Michigan in the future.

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