The following student post is by Nicholas McIntyre (B.A., Oakland University; J.D., Wayne State University Law School, expected 2014). While in law school, Nick has interned at the U.S. Justice Department (Community Relations Service) and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.
Over the past 30 years, Michigan’s wolf population has recovered dramatically, from three known wolves in 1989 to a current population of 658. See Rationale and Basis of Natural Resources Commission for its Approval and Adoption of Wildlife Conservation Order Amendments 13 and 14 of 2013. The population has risen to a point where, effective January 27, 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves in the Western Great Lakes region from the federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife. The Michigan legislature then enacted 2012 Public Act 520, which designated the wolf a game animal.
In response to listing the wolf as a game animal, animal protection groups such as Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) collected enough signatures to stop the wolf hunt and place the decision of whether the wolf is a game animal on the 2014 ballot. The NRC Approval Order states that a law subject to referendum is suspended until the results of the next general election are known. Accordingly, the Natural Resource Commission (NRC) was unable to establish a wolf hunt until after the results of the 2014 election.
In May of 2013, Governor Snyder signed 2013 Public Act 20, which gave the NRC the authority to designate the wolf a game species notwithstanding a pending ballot initiative. The NRC thus re-designated the wolf a game animal and re-established the 2013 wolf hunt.
While the debate over wolf hunting continues, Michigan's first wolf hunting season opens on November 15, 2013. The state sold 1,200 wolf licenses, $100 for Michigan residents, and $500 for not residents. The hunt is limited to three zones in the Upper Peninsula, called Wolf Management Units (WMU). Each WMU has a target wolf harvest. Hunters must report a successful harvest the day of the harvest. Once this limit is met, the wolf season ends for that zone. Hunters are required to check daily to ensure their zone is open to hunting.
KMWP argues that it is improper to hunt the wolf immediately after it is removed from the endangered species list. KMWP’s report, Upcoming Michigan Wolf Hunt Based on False Information and Poor Farm Stewardship argues the hunt is not justified because there are few cases of wolves eating livestock, there has never been a report of a wolf attacking a human in Michigan, and the law already permits property owners to kill wolves that are attacking their livestock or pets.
The Michigan Natural Resources Commission’s Wildlife Conservation Order Amendment No. 14 of 2013 offers a contrasting picture of the wolf in Michigan. The state claims the wolf hunt is needed in all three WMUs, because they are areas of high concentration of wolves with persistent complaints. For example, WMU A is a 337 square mile region in the Western UP, containing the city of Ironwood. Since 2010, there have been 91 complaints of wolf nuisance in this area, including wolves chasing dogs in residential areas, and wolves in close proximity to children who were waiting for school busses. The NRC has set a goal of 16 wolves for this WMU. Another WMU has recorded 80 livestock depreciation events, and the loss of several dogs since 2010. In all three WMUs, non-lethal and targeted lethal control measures have been used, but the NRC claims problems persist.
KMWP claims the depreciation statistics are misleading. According to the KMWP report, a DNR Freedom of Information Act request revealed that 73% of conflicts with livestock in WMU B happened on one farm. 64% of all cattle killed in the Upper Peninsula were killed on that same farm. According to the report, the farmer who owned the farm failed use non-lethal means of deterring wolves, even though such means were provided by the DNR. The report further alleges that the DNR removed a donkey, which had been provided to the farmer as a means of deterrence, because the farmer neglected the animal.
Despite the controversies, the state will allow 43 wolves to be taken in this year's hunt, which amounts to approximately 6.5% of Michigan's total wolf population. According to the NRC Approval Order, over 30% of the wolf population would have to be killed by humans in order to decrease wolf abundance. This benchmark is used by many states that currently allow wolf hunting, including Minnesota and Montana. The NRC based the harvest largely on a DNR Wildlife Division paper written in 2006, Review of Social and Biological Science Relevant to Wolf Management in Michigan. The report cites many studies with dramatically different results. One study found wolf populations stabilize when human caused mortality is limited to 22%. Other studies cited found wolf populations could support 28-47% human caused mortality. Reproduction rates, immigration, and emigration were important factors in a population’s ability to compensate for high human-induced mortality rates. Studies were done in Canada, Alaska, and north-central Minnesota.
Montana has allowed wolf hunting for three of the previous four years (the 2010 wolf hunt was canceled by court order). In 2009, Montana had a wolf population of 524 wolves. According to the Montana Wolf Hunting Season Reports, the wolf population in Montana has risen in this time from 524 wolves in 2009 to 625 in 2013. This is despite relatively aggressive wolf harvests. In 2009, 72 wolves were harvested. For 2011, the harvest goal was raised and 220 wolves were taken; in 2012, 225 wolves were taken in Montana.
Michigan Law, MCL 324.40113a, gives the NRC the authority over the taking of game in Michigan, but it requires that the agency use, to the greatest extent practicable, sound principles of scientific management. The NRC has established a target harvest that, if experiences of Montana and Alaska are indicators, will not dramatically decrease the overall wolf abundance in Michigan.
But it’s not certain how the population in Michigan will respond to hunting. The wolf population in 2011 was 687, and it fell to 658 in 2012. While the NRC Approval Order has said this does not necessarily mean there are fewer wolves in Michigan, it seems to imply so.
Furthermore, according to the Michigan Wolf Management Plan, the wolf populations in Alaska and Canada can sustain a 28% harvest because wolves re-colonize areas through migration. Alaska and Canada have a greater area to draw wolf populations from. Montana borders Yellowstone, which has a healthy wolf population. If Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan all allow wolf hunting, it is unclear if Michigan will have an influx of wolf migration to offset the population loss.