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Improving wolf management

To the editor:

“Words matter. . .accuracy matters.” So stated former state senator Tom Casperson in 2013, in an apology to the Michigan legislature after he had spread false stories about wolves in the U.P. Residents of the U.P. “know all too well” such “horror stories,” according to State Representative Greg Markkanen. With that he introduced his DMG column on Nov. 22, calling for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to remove the gray wolf from the list of endangered species, so that Michigan can manage the wolf “as we do other wildlife species.”

The problem is, Markkanen asks for something that has been ruled illegal several times by federal courts. He could have, instead, suggested a viable alternative, one that the USFWS simply refuses to try: reclassify the gray wolf from “endangered” to “threatened”. Such down listing was done for Minnesota 40 years ago, and ever since then employees of Wildlife Services in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have dealt very successfully with wolves that kill livestock and, in many cases, other domestic animals. Minnesota farmers especially value the USDA goal of immediate response (in less than 24 hours), and the allowance for lethal control. The USFWS has not explained adequately why such reclassification is not proposed for the rest of the Great Lakes region.

Responsiveness, honesty and transparency are critical for agencies charged with wildlife conservation, especially for animals like wolves that fuel strong human passions. Otherwise, public trust quickly erodes. A recent example involving wolves killed by DNR employees in 2016 was published, ironically, on the same day as the Markkanen column. You can read about this at www.bridgemi.com “Michigan DNR said it killed wolves to protect humans. Then we got its emails.”

According to the Bridge account, lies and the spread of disinformation were involved in decisions by the MI DNR and USFWS to kill wolves on an Ontonagon farm in 2016, allowed under an endangered classification only if wolves threaten human safety. In delaying and stonewalling public release of this information, one can readily see a lack of responsiveness, lack of honesty, and lack of transparency. A useful resolution from the Michigan legislature would be to recommend to the USFWS to reclassify the gray wolf as threatened. Meanwhile, one must wonder whether, as Representative Markkanen claims, “Michigan is well-prepared to manage gray wolves in the best interest of residents.”