Redux on wolves in Michigan

By on December 6, 2016 with 9 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

One of the most disturbing and sobering examples of the misuse of political power comes out of Michigan – and it has nothing to do with the astonishingly close presidential race of 2016. It concerns the unusual, years-long obsession of a few lawmakers who want to clear a path for trophy hunters and commercial trappers to take the lives of too many of the state’s few hundred wolves.

Right now, Michigan state senator Tom Casperson – who is completing the final two years of his second term, after losing a Republican primary for a U.S. House seat that overlaps with his current district – is pushing his fourth wolf-hunting bill in the state legislature. Yes, his fourth bill.

He’s been effective in moving this series of bills, but, at the same time, painfully ineffective.

In 2014, he engineered the passage of three wolf-hunting bills, each with slightly different provisions. Each one of them has since been nullified – two by the voters and, most recently, one by a Michigan appellate court.

That’s why he’s at it again with SB 1187.

The problem is, with two voter referendums in the rearview mirror, he’s working in direct contravention of the will of the state’s voters.

In 2014, at the urging of The HSUS – which helped to qualify referendums to challenge Casperson’s bills – voters were emphatic in rejecting both wolf-hunting measures. By 10 percentage points, voters rejected Proposal 1, a measure to declare wolves a game species and to allow a trophy-hunting season. An even larger percent of voters — 64 percent in all — opposed Proposal 2, which sought to give the Natural Resources Commission the opportunity to establish a hunting season on wolves. In fact, every single county in the Lower Peninsula (and Chippewa County in the Upper Peninsula) voted “no” on Proposal 2.

These were the first two public votes on the issue of wolf hunting in the nation, and, as a result, Michigan lawmakers are in the enviable position of being able to gauge with precision how their constituents feel about the election. If elections are to matter as a reflection of the public will – and they surely do – it’s clear that the people of Michigan do not support the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves.

The third Casperson measure – which, among other provisions, also provided the authority for the NRC to set a season on wolves – was struck down by the courts two weeks ago because it contained provisions entirely separate from the wolf-hunting issue. The Michigan Court of Appeals rightly found that the measure was a “Trojan Horse” that cynically and unconstitutionally misled voters by touting unrelated benefits while “surreptitiously slipping [in]… a reenacting provision to ensure that regardless of the referenda votes on PA 520 and PA 21, wolves would be on the game species list.”

Not only are wolves scarce in number, they are inedible, act as a firewall against the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, and serve as a lure for tourists to come to Isle Royale and to the Upper Peninsula. As recently underscored by a Michigan DNR/University of Notre Dame study, wolves play a significant role in the Great Lakes ecosystem by reducing unhealthy densities of white-tailed deer, which in turn protects timber stocks and agriculture crops by reducing deer overbrowse. And by controlling deer populations, wolves can also help to mitigate the risk of car-deer collisions. Thus, wolves can benefit agriculture, public safety, water quality, and ecosystem health.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources already provides the state’s ranchers with fencing, fladry (rope with flapping flags), and guard animals to protect livestock from native carnivores, and has stated that these methods are highly effective. Michigan livestock owners are also compensated for confirmed or even suspected losses to wolves. Still, cases of wolves killing livestock in Michigan are extremely rare, amounting to just 0.0005 percent of livestock deaths in 2015. This percentage is even lower than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s nationwide statistics, which put wolves at the very bottom, at 0.2 percent, of the list of hazards to livestock that includes respiratory, digestive, and calving problems, weather, disease, lameness, injury, theft, and even vultures.

Scientific studies have amply demonstrated that indiscriminate killing of wolves by hunting is not only ineffective at mitigating conflicts with livestock, it could even make those few problems worse by dispersing packs and sending inexperienced juvenile wolves out on their own. On the rare occasion when wolves have been spotted in populated areas of the Upper Peninsula, it has typically been the result of humans drawing them into town by feeding deer, wolves’ preferred prey. Even in those instances, the wolves did not threaten or harm humans. And again, even though wolves in Michigan are currently protected under the federal ESA, they can still be killed in the event that they actually pose a threat to human safety. Further, recent stories of wolf sightings on private property in towns such as Marenisco have not been substantiated, nor were official reports of those incidents filed with the Michigan DNR, as is required to maintain accurate records on any wolf-human conflicts. We should not let irrational fears or irresponsible human behavior be used to justify the trophy hunting and trapping of this vital species.

Senator Casperson had two of his bills overturned by citizens and one by the courts. He ran for election to federal office and was defeated in the primary. What part of “no” does he not understand? A virtual flood of scientific studies in the past few years have made it abundantly clear: there is no justification for killing wolves simply for trophies, out of hatred, to protect livestock, or in a misguided attempt to boost prey species for hunters.

In 2014, along with the wolf referendums, Gov. Rick Snyder was on the ballot. He won a commanding win over Democrat Mark Schauer. Proposal 2 – which most closely resembles Casperson’s current bill – got close to 250,000 more “no” votes than Gov. Snyder got “yes” votes in his convincing win. That immense popular support for wolves should provide plenty of reason for the governor to send Casperson’s latest bill into the ash heap.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. christina soli says:


  2. Kathryn Remen says:

    I really appreciate the information: could you please update this post so it includes actions that concerned citizens can take? What are the most effective ways of stopping this?



  4. M.McLaughlin says:

    In somewhat related news,
    U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $900,000 in grants under the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Project Grant Program.

    Grants will be distributed to the states of Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.

    While Michigan’s UP reports a small and fluctuating annual number of attacks on cattle. whatever program MI submitted (if any at all. I do not know, being more involved in the far west) was not sufficiently thought out in regard to nonlethal conflict prevention, and thus was not included in the grant.

    Instead of the last Gasperson bill, those affected in the UP might want to explore something other than crazed killing, the original Euroamerican response to native species’ presence and activity.

    In a recent visit by a wolf biologist associated with Minnesota’s International Wolf Center, lethal “management” was advocated by this individual to Oregon and Northern California attendees, although those 3 lectures were in fact created by Audubon Association staffmember.

    I strongly feel that we should be accurately apprised of opinions and agendas of members, staff, and directors of organizations purporting to advocate for animals and environment.

    In the latter case, Dick Thiel, once of WI DNR, parroted all-too-exactly the outdated opinions of L. David Mech; both are on Board or Advisory Board of the IWC.
    While many states depend upon science for management decisions, the last couple decades have shown lethality in management to be less necessary than the trigger-happy would prefer we believe.

    That particular lecture left out completely a major principle of population dynamics:
    At first a recovering or reintroduced population increases slowly, followed by a period of fast growth, slowing again as the population approaches the habitat’s/ecosystem’s functional carrying capacity.

    Predators ALWAYS rise and fall, fluctuating in response to prey availability, and do not grow incessantly. Oddly, Idaho recently claimed that their public hunting was the cause of wolf population leveling off. While this may or may not be accurate, I saw no actual support for the conclusion.

    The wolf is an observational/environmental and social learner, able to change responses to other goings-on. Some great Lakes wolves have dispersed as far as southern Missouri recently, although a sever gauntlet of humans, guns, freeways exists.
    Wisconsin has unfortunate liberal rules on baiting for bears and hound hunting. Wolves there are unnaturally in conflict with this European style of “harvesting” (it’s certainly NOT a sport, as bears have small territories and the donuts, lard, grease, and other excessively aromatic substances cannot fail to attract).
    Wolves in their small territories are also attracted to the dogs (and this conflict cannot really be reduced as dogs are composed entirely of wolf genes, and wolves this detect them as strangers invading the normally civilly-separated wolf territories -wolves, keep eye, ear, and nose on others’ “properties”, avoiding conflict as much as possible, unless numbers cause temporary oversaturation/territorial overlap).
    This is an artificial conflict, which can and should be prevented by outlawing hounding, a cruel “European “sport.”

  5. Denni A says:

    Don Jr just had his father appoint an avid “sports hunter” like himself to the Interior Dept., the onslaught will begin in short order once his father takes office.this country’s public and federal lands that we the taxpayers support and treasure will become “killing fields” of our wildlife heritage and majestic big-game animals. I hope HSUS and all the other Animal Rights and Animal Welfare Organizations are gearing up for the battle that is about to ensue to protect our lands and wildlife from these trophy pillagers and plunderers.

  6. Rachel says:

    Can you please provide your source for the statistic of the amount of livestock killed by wolves in Michigan? Is that solely lower peninsula or including upper peninsula? Something important to keep in mind is that this act isn’t just so game hunters can expand their sport to wolves. I would be interested in knowing how many Michigan farmers you all talk to when doing your research to write your articles. Wolves are a bigger problem for Michigan farmers than te humane society and other news that supports this issue lets on.
    It’s also very important to keep in mind human safety. Someone shouldn’t have to be afraid of the law if they have to shoot a wolf to protect their loved ones or property. I don’t agree with just going out and shooting wolves and other protected species for fun, but if it’s an issue of safety or defending your livelihood, you shouldn’t have to fear the law as a consequence for protecting yourself.

    Also I have a question- how much of your funds goes towards protecting and planting wolves and other apex predators, and how much goes toward taking care of abandoned and injured cats and dogs? Does the humane society have a chart showing their distribution of funds?

    Thank you for your consideration.

  7. Sam says:

    So sad that people want to kill any animal just to kill.
    U can not eat a wolf
    All animals are here for a reason
    We hurt ourselves when we break that chain
    If the only way u can hunt us to have the animal enclosed do they can not escape you are not a hunter. Just a poor person that wants to make yourself seem important—you are not anything

  8. D Massey says:

    If you are not directly effected you know nothing about living with them! If you have not been tracked by the wolves, you have no vote. Have they been in your yard? Have they been in your garage? Have they been waiting for your family pet to come outside, NO I didnt think so.
    What do I know? I know they follow my husband through the woods. I know they were in our garage and marked things outside. Yes I have seen them cross in front of my house. I would never shoot them just to say I did, but my husband, pets and GRANDCHILDREN are reason enough to defend.

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