Wolf management discussed at State Senate teleconference

MANISTIQUE – The Upper Peninsula and Lansing were a little closer Wednesday afternoon as U.P. residents gave testimony via video conference on the impact of wolves before the state Senate Natural Resources Committee.

The focus of the hearing was Senate Resolution No. 7 – sponsored by State Sen. Tom Casperson – that asks Congress to take legislative action and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Michigan Department of Natural Resources to appeal a decision made by a federal judge in December that returned Western Great Lakes gray wolves to the endangered and threatened species list.

The resolution also supports scientifically-based state management of the wolf population.

Legislators, residents, experts, and representatives from organizations and communities gathered in Lansing, Ironwood, and Manistique to weigh in on the resolution that could return wolf management to the state, allow for a wolf hunt, and give residents and the DNR the option to use lethal force against problem wolves.

Some opponents to the resolution believe information about wolf depredation and the safety of children were greatly exaggerated, citing a story told by Casperson about three wolves being shot in the backyard of a daycare center in Ironwood. Casperson later apologized after learning no wolves were shot at that location and no children were in the backyard when a single wolf was sighted on the property – and the location where most livestock kills took place.

“Michigan’s wolf depredation was distorted to begin with. We know that 60 percent of those livestock losses occurred on one U.P. farm whose owner baited wolves with deer and cow carcasses and later pleaded no contest to animal cruelty charges for neglecting his own animals,” said Jill Fritz, state director for the Humane Society and executive director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, a group responsible for two ballot proposals last year aimed at ending wolf hunting in the state prior to the re-listing of the wolf.

However, not all complaints raised by those giving testimony about the wolves were tied to livestock or daycare centers. According to Ironwood City Manager Scott Erickson, 15 wolf-related complaints have been fielded by the city’s public safety department.

“The Ironwood City Commission has unanimously approved a resolution asking that wolf management, proper wolf management procedures be put in place,” said Erickson. “Again, that’s a five-member city commission, they talked to their constituents, and this group doesn’t always agree on things as we go through city issues, but they did agree unanimously that something needs to be done relative to this issue.”

Some residents noted wolves were less likely to spook than other wild animals and cited their own experiences.

“My yard is fenced in 6-foot high because I have a dog. Well, one time the dog was barking, there was two wolves in the back yard. I took a 44 magnum pistol and I shot three times above their heads and the wolves never went away,” said Arthur Lyons, who testified from Ironwood.

Many of the testimonies revolved around hunting and hunting dogs, which have been killed when they travel into wolf territory and are seen as a threat to a pack.

“Hunters now have a responsibility if there’s wolves known anywhere – and they’re known pretty much across the U.P. – that the hunter takes responsibility, and at the end of the day, probably shouldn’t be hunting there anymore because they’re going to lose their dogs,” said Casperson, who chairs the Natural Resources Committee and proposed the resolution. “There are many people that have recreated in our region many, many years all of a sudden finding out they can’t do it anymore, at least the way they did it, because they’re going to lose their animals.”

Hunters also expressed concerns the wolf population has had a negative affect on the population of deer in the U.P.

“I hunted deer here my whole life. I don’t hunt deer anymore. I’ve given it up. I don’t think we should have a deer season in Gogebic County until we get this thing cured,” said trapper and forester Joe Allen, who believes the wolf population is greater than the carrying capacity of the land.

Others spoke in opposition to the de-listing, noting wolves are part of the environment just like deer and other animals.

“The wolf, to our people, is important,” said Ginew Inini, member of the Ottawa Nation who testified from Ironwood. “It’s funny that the wolf teaches our people respect because I see not much respect for my brother the wolf.”

It was also stated by some who opposed the resolution that fear tactics have been used to villainize the wolves.

“Wolves pose little risk to humans. In the last century there’s been a handful of attacks in all of North America. Since 1965 there have been at least 34 fatal dog attacks in Michigan alone, an average of once every one to two years,” testified Nancy Warren, who represented the National Wolf Watchers Coalition and who submitted one of the affidavits to the federal judge who ruled to re-list the wolves.

A few of the speakers who opposed de-listing the wolves noted they would accept the wolves being downgraded to “threatened” status. Minority Vice Chair of the committee, Rebekah Warren, proposed an amendment to the resolution to make downgrading the wolves permissible; however, the amendment was rejected by the committee.