Opinion | Hunters have outsized influence on Michigan wildlife policy
From watching mother deer lead their fawns through my yard for the first time in the spring, to hearing a great horned owl’s call at 4 a.m. while lying in bed, to watching baby foxes come out of their den and play on my college campus, I am grateful to be a Yooper.
Growing up along the shores of the Great Lakes, which contain over a fifth of the world’s freshwater, has made me a passionate environmentalist.
I’ve spent years educating myself about the connections between the environment and animals, and have used my experience as president of the Northern Michigan University (NMU) Animal Club and volunteer leader to advocate for positive change on my college campus. Animal Club organized an award-winning “Peas on Earth Challenge” in 2021 to raise awareness about the environment and animal welfare.
This led to NMU Dining pledging to have 30 percent of entrees served be plant-based by the end of 2024.
As NMU shifts toward sustainable plant-based eating, I hope to see statewide laws and policies start shifting to reflect the values of my generation — whose voting patterns are influencing election outcomes. These values include prioritizing the environment, democracy and transparency.
There’s one area in particular where there’s a huge gap between the status quo and public values: the way wildlife policy is made in Michigan. Examples that demonstrate this gap include expanding cruel bobcat trapping with no scientific justification, allowing gruesome wildlife killing contests to be held statewide and authorizing a wolf trophy hunt despite Michigan voters rejecting it twice.
I attended meetings of the Michigan Wolf Management Advisory Council and the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to see how the policy process worked. I knew that state wildlife management agencies tend to favor the interests of hunters and trappers over all other interests before attending the meetings. What I didn’t expect though, were the biases present in these forms to be so obvious.
Specifically, I noticed an over-familiarity and camaraderie between commissioners and attendees that represent trophy hunting interests, with mentions of commissioners being invited to their banquets, meetings and hunts.
The issue isn’t that pro-hunting bodies exist, it’s the overstated influence hunters and trappers have over decisions regarding wildlife that affect everyone in Michigan. Hunters make up less than 7 percent of Michiganders, and trophy hunters who kill animals not or food, but for heads, hides, cash and prizes, make up an even tinier percentage.
However, their views consistently become policy and law. In other words, the closerelationship between trophy hunting interests and wildlife decision makers leads to policies that do not align with the general public’s values. Often, the justification for trophy hunting animals is that “skimming a few off the top,” so to speak, wouldn’t harm the population as a whole.
Wildlife agencies claim their decisions are guided by science, even though this is not always the case. Science can provide us with information, but it cannot make value-based decisions for us. The values such as compassion and coexistence are clearly not being considered when deciding to authorize trophy hunting and trapping.
We must have a really good reason to kill sentient beings, and doing it for fun, a trophy, cash or bragging rights as long as it doesn’t harm the population is not a good enough reason. Some experts even warn that state wildlife agencies risk losing legitimacy and viability if they don’t adapt with society’s values, which over the last few decades have shifted towards “mutualism,” or viewing wildlife “as deserving of basic consideration similar to those humans receive.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notes that wildlife watchers now outnumber and outspend hunters by a wide margin, and research finds that they — rather than Hunters — provide the bulk of funding for wildlife management. The U.S. system of wildlife management needs fundamental reform so everyone can have a say in decisions that affect their wildlife.
Until then, I invite members of the Michigan DNR and NRC to attend an NMU Animal Club meeting to learn how we’re speaking up for our wildlife and environment. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to help protect wildlife in our state, Animal Club is organizing a virtual protest against wolf hunting. Check out our website to add your voice!
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