“The Wolf in the Room”

July 24, 2012

Conservation Policy, Wildlife

When the natural resource agencies of Michigan and other Great Lakes states sought the legal authority to manage wolves, they did so by advancing the argument that such authority would be met with a balanced approach which recognizes the complex social and scientific factors involved.

As a result of the regional population recovery and the acceptance of their respective management plans, in January 2012 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves from the federal endangered species list for Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin and returned management authority to those states.

It is worth recalling that Michigan’s 1997 Gray Wolf Recovery and Management Plan concluded that a sustainable population would require at least 200 animals. This, as compared to Michigan’s summer 2012 wolf population which is now likely in excess of 700.

Because of the highly complex social considerations and potential for legal challenges, however, Michigan’s decision to take a more pragmatic approach while other states seemingly pursued a higher risk approach was, in the opinion of many, understandable – at least, at first.

For those in Michigan who have long felt that the wolf population recovery has resulted in an unwelcome hunting competitor or a potential threat to livestock and domestic animals, the fact that the other Great Lakes states have moved forward with 2012 wolf hunts while Michigan has not, has been disappointing.

Given the fact that incidents of wolf poaching have been few since this de-listing and two consecutive mild winters may help 2012 U.P. deer hunter satisfaction rates, now would appear to be a good time to begin laying out the specifics of the implementation phase of the Wolf Management Plan. Soon, Michigan will also have the benefit of hindsight as it evaluates those hunts occurring in our sister Great Lakes states.

However uncomfortable, the DNR Wildlife Division, together with input from members of the Wolf Management Roundtable must soon address the question of population goals.  It is worth recalling that the work completed in 2010 by the Michigan Elk Management Advisory Team (EMAT) laid the groundwork for the Wildlife Division’s 2012 final plan and decision to reduce both the population target range and management zone for Michigan’s elk herd.  If the low end of the new population target range were to be reached, this would represent a potential herd-size reduction in the area of 50%.

However troubling this decision may have been for Michigan elk advocates, there was a collective recognition that when social, economic and wildlife management objectives begin to outweigh the benefits of a larger population of a single species, it may be in the best interest of that species to bring its population more in line with this broader definition of “carrying capacity.”

We raise this issue now, not because of some wildlife management immediacy, but because if we’ve learned nothing else in the past year it’s that unless our State’s resource management professionals act in a proactive manner, they will find themselves in a defensive position reacting to legislative pressure.  The development and implementation of the next phase of a Wolf Management plan under increasing political duress would not be in the best interest of the species or its stakeholders.

At a time when we should be celebrating yet another tremendous wildlife recovery and restoration success story, let us hope that those charged with wildlife management here in Michigan begin to move swiftly in advancing their own vision for wolf management and not wait for others to define it for them.

About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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