The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) named members to the newest iteration of the Michigan Wolf Management Advisory Council Thursday.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) Executive Director Amy Trotter was one of five representatives from stakeholder groups to be selected for the council. She was appointed to represent conservation organizations. The others include Mike Thorman (Michigan Hunting Dog Federation) representing hunting organizations, Bee Friedlander (Attorneys for Animals) representing an animal advocacy organization, Dick Pershinske (Upper Peninsula resident) representing agricultural interests and Miles Falck (Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission) representing tribal government.
The council’s charge will be to make recommendations to the DNR regarding the management of gray wolves in Michigan.
The DNR announcement comes on the heels of Senate Resolution 15, sponsored by Sens. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) and Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), which calls for “the Natural Resources Commission to authorize, and the Department of Natural Resources to organize, wolf hunting and trapping as part of the state’s wolf management efforts beginning in 2021.” The resolution passed the Senate Tuesday.
Resolutions are non-binding recommendations made by legislators. They do not carry the effect of law, and the passage of SR 15 does not institute a wolf hunting season.
In 2020, the Trump administration delisted gray wolves in the lower 48 states — effectively handing management of the species back to the states when the final rule took effect on January 4. The announcement triggered lawsuits from animal rights groups almost immediately. After President Biden assumed the presidency, his administration called for a review of the delisting, but no immediate changes to the status have been made.
Trotter has been down this road before, and it is an issue she has worked fervently on since her first day with MUCC, she said.
“MUCC has advocated for a durable wolf delisting, long-term management goals and the use of hunting and trapping as a primary management tool for almost a decade,” Trotter said. “This constant merry-go-round of listing and delisting does a disservice to the species, the state’s ability to manage that species and the best available science surrounding Michigan’s recovered wolf population.”
By 1992, Michigan’s wolf population consisted of about 20 wolves. The most recent estimate from the DNR puts Michigan’s Upper Peninsula minimum winter wolf population at almost 700.
Federal delisting criteria required Michigan and Wisconsin’s combined total to be at least 100 wolves for five consecutive years in order for delisting to occur. According to the DNR, the two states’ combined population has totaled more than 100 wolves since 1994 and was nearing 1,900 wolves in 2020.
The 1997 Michigan Wolf Recovery and Management Plan outlined a recovery goal of 200 wolves in the state for five consecutive years in order to initiate a state delisting. The population of wolves has remained above 200 for more than a decade.
In 2009, the Michigan DNR delisted wolves in the state and reclassified them as a protected, nongame species. In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) completed a delisting process for gray wolves and removed them from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota transferring management authority back to the three states.
Under Public Act 21 of 2013 (and subsequently Public Act 281 of 2014 via a citizen-initiated statute creating the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act), the NRC used its authority to name wolves a game species and created the first modern-day wolf hunt in 2013.
Michigan’s 2013 hunt was a carefully controlled management opportunity in the fall of 2013. 1,200 licenses were sold over the counter for $100 to residents ($500 for non-residents), with a target harvest of only 43 wolves across three small management units in the Upper Peninsula. Mandatory registration of harvest was required, as was calling in to verify the season was still open at the beginning of each day.
Much like Michigan’s limited sturgeon spearing season on Black Lake, a hunt ended in a unit when the target harvest was reached within it. Only 23 wolves were harvested during the six-week season.
In 2014, however, a federal judge ordered wolves be placed back on the federal Endangered Species List (ESL), trumping both the Michigan Legislature’s 2009 decision and the 2012 USFWS rule.
Trotter said gray wolves’ recovery in Michigan is a true success story, but more work needs to be done to fix the federal triggers that place species on or remove them from the ESL.
“The recovery of wolves in the Great Lakes Region has proven the effectiveness of the Endangered Species Act and what it was designed for,” Trotter said. “However, the process has also shed light on just how hard delisting a recovered population is and the lengths anti-hunters will go to through litigation to keep the species from being managed.”
In 2019, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel sent a letter to then-Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt suggesting that the USFWS delisting of wolves is unlawful and that the species should remain on the ESL. In 2018, Nessel was endorsed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund — a political action committee responsible for funding anti-hunting lobbyists, politicians and supporters.
Contradicting Nessel’s opinion, DNR Director Daniel Eichinger submitted comments on behalf of the department to the USFWS ahead of the recent delisting that “strongly supports the proposed rule to remove federal protections for gray wolves in the lower 48 United States where the population has recovered.”
While MUCC has not weighed in on the delisting across other regions of the U.S., we are confident the Great Lakes Region has met every restoration benchmark.
Lawsuits, Public Sentiment and Resolutions
Much of the argument surrounding wolf management in Michigan centers around an anti-hunting agenda from organizations masquerading as conservationists.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and similar organizations have funneled significant resources from out-of-state donors into Michigan to try and influence public sentiment regarding wolves throughout the last decade.
The current lawsuit challenging the federal delisting was initiated by the Center for Biological Diversity, HSUS, Earthjustice, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Oregon Wild and Defenders of Wildlife
Common messaging from these anti-hunting organizations anthropomorphizes wolves, focuses on the perceived cruelty of hunting or trapping instead of their intended use as a management tool, negates the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and appeals to emotions rather than fact, Trotter said.
“Usage of terms like slaughter and carnage has become commonplace in propaganda pieces disseminated by these organizations,” Trotter said. “Trophy hunters is now a term being used by these organizations to define anyone who ethically harvests any animal in accordance with state and federal laws.”
Sen. Dayna Polehanki (D-Livonia), echoing anti-hunting sentiments, made inaccurate and unsubstantiated comments regarding trapping and wolves on the Senate floor Tuesday during her testimony on SR 15.
“Traps and snares can leave animals struggling and suffering for hours before they either slowly die or escape through self-amputation,” Polehanki said. “And traps can be triggered even if the target is not a wolf, which could leave protected species such as the bald eagle or even pets prone to being snared by a trap.”
Trapping has been an integral part of Michigan’s outdoor heritage prior to statehood and continues to be an effective management tool for conservationists. Trappers are required by law to check their traps regularly.
Polehanki’s claim that “protected” species, such as domestic pets and bald eagles, will fall victim to traps and suffer for hours or escape through self-amputation is not corroborated through science.
MUCC’s members have been clear through the organization’s grassroots-driven resolution process that they want wolves delisted and managed using hunting and trapping as a primary tool. MUCC remains neutral on Sens. McBroom and Bumstead’s resolution calling for a 2021 hunt under the 2015 management plan.
“The issue at hand is the process by which season frameworks are set, which includes a thorough review of the science and an updated management plan from the advisory council,” Trotter said. “The cyclical listing and delisting through litigation is often compounded by inadequate or incomplete processes. While it could be completed more quickly, we need to adhere to the process to ensure a durable delisting and long-term management.”
Since 1937, MUCC has united citizens to conserve, protect and enhance Michigan’s natural resources and outdoor heritage – and we do so from Lansing to Washington D.C. Please join us today: http://bit.ly/JoinMUCC