There are just three wolves surviving at Isle Royale National Park, an island ecosystem and World Heritage site locked within Lake Superior in Michigan. That’s down from 50 some years ago, and the surviving three wolves show signs of inbreeding. Since the wolves have all but vanished from the island, the moose population has doubled, and an ecosystem that once had a strong balance of predator and prey has been thrown out of whack.
South of there, on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there are approximately 600 wolves, and the state’s voters last November decided in overwhelming numbers on two referendum questions to maintain their protected status and to forbid the state Natural Resources Commission from declaring them a game species who can be hunted and trapped.
Still, though, there are some loud voices – a distinct minority given the landslide votes in favor of wolves – who want to kill wolves, scaremongering about their very infrequent killing of cattle and other farm animals, and trumping up charges against the wild canids.
The HSUS is determined to find a long-term solution to the debate. We’ve put forth two proposals -safeguarding the long-term viability of wolves at Isle Royale and on the Upper Peninsula while also protecting the interests of farmers concerned about wolves. We’ve won strong legislative support for them, including from dozens of U.S. Representatives and from U.S. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan.
First, we’ve suggested that some livestock-depredating wolves be captured and sent to Isle Royale. There are no farm animals there and no year-round human residents. There’s just a large moose population that threatens forest health. An augmented wolf population, infused with new genetic material, can help control moose numbers and also protect the forests.
We’ve also suggested that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service accept our petition to list the wolves as threatened in the entire Great Lakes Region – which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. That policy would likely prevent any sport hunting or commercial trapping of wolves, while allowing state agencies to selectively remove wolves in the rare circumstance that they pose a threat to farm animals or human safety. This is the current policy in Minnesota, and it gives farmers and government officials more tools than they have now in Michigan and Wisconsin.
In a broader sense, it’s clear that wolves provide an enormous economic and ecological benefit to the Great Lakes region. People will trek to wolf-inhabited forests precisely because they are there, boosting tourism-related commerce. Wolves also limit deer and moose populations, depressing crop depredation and shrinking the number of collisions between these animals and cars. Through their killing of the weak, sick, and older deer and moose, beavers, and other animals, they have a broad, balancing, and beneficial impact on ecosystems.
We hope that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service will accept our recommendations, which protect wolves and balance the tricky sociology of managing wolf populations in our era. These creatures, once brought to the brink of extinction, should be allowed to survive in the decades ahead and not have their packs ceaselessly battered by random and reckless killing by trophy hunters and commercial trappers. Fortunately for us, they stay away from people and help farmers and forests like no other large predator. We need to discard the myths about wolves and recognize their rightful place in the wild.