Opinion | Michigan's management of wolf population is outdated

Richard P. Smith from Marquette has been a full-time outdoor writer and photographer for more than 40 years. He has written 24 books and produced two DVDs about deer and bear hunting and wildlife. His work is routinely published in state, regional and national outdoor publications. You can learn more about him by going to his website: www.richardpsmith.com.

Removing Michigan wolves from the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for good is long overdue, so their management can be officially turned over to the state Department of Natural Resources, the agency that is largely responsible for recovery of the animals in the first place. These predators were rightfully removed from the protection provided by that listing at least twice in recent years and then put back on by a system too easily manipulated.

There was a time that state wolves needed the protection provided by the ESA, and that protection enabled the animals to increase well beyond the established goal for recovery. Even though the ESA brings federal protection with it, it was state DNR personnel who saw to it that wolves got that protection and enforced those regulations when they were broken. We have a healthy wolf population in Michigan because of the DNR.

As the DNR clearly states during recent estimates of wolf numbers in the U.P. after surveying two-thirds of their range, there are a minimum of 600-plus adults during the winter. In reality, there are probably closer to 1,000 and when pups are born in the spring, that number doubles or triples.

Is wildlife management by the DNR perfect? No. I’m well aware of that, being critical of the state agency myself over some aspects of deer and bear management, but that agency is in the best position possible to properly manage wolves, deer and bear in this state. As already stated, the DNR is largely responsible for the current high wolf population, which is something that is too often ignored.

If wolves were on the ESA list in 2016, when three were killed by a federal wildlife agent to deal with predation of cattle on the Dykstra Farm, they should not have been, as they shouldn’t be now. The killing of those three wolves and others near Ironwood were done in an effort to reduce conflicts with humans.

Eliminating the predators that were causing problems or potential problems has done nothing to reduce the viability of wolves in Michigan. Those animals have long since been replaced as the wolf population remains high, if not increasing, throughout the U.P. As an apex predator, wolves must be managed to reduce conflicts and protect human safety. They must be removed from the ESA to make that possible.

There may not be any recent records of wolf attacks on humans in Michigan, but there are plenty of historical records of wolves killing people in the state, and there have been a number of close calls during recent years. On Aug. 2, 2019, for instance, rural Newberry resident Brian Krupla experienced a wolf enter his yard and grab one of his dogs. Krupla ran after the wolf with a loaded shotgun to try to save his dog.

After Krupla got the wolf to drop his dog, the wolf charged him. It was only eight to 10 feet away and still coming when he shot it in self-defense. If Krupla had not been armed, that would have been the state’s first wolf attack on a human in modern times.

I’ve interviewed several veteran outdoorsmen who successfully fended off wolf attacks. Two of those men climbed trees to avoid being bitten. A child or someone incapable of climbing a tree is certainly more vulnerable to a wolf attack. Is it going to take an attack in which someone is actually injured by a wolf before wolves are removed from the ESA? I hope not.

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Mon, 12/02/2019 - 8:16am

The NRC and DNR are supposed to make scientific based decisions balancing human activity and needs with this science on a very narrow definition. Obviously not everything they do turns out as anticipated. But such as it is, this is a better basis than legislative (deer baiting ban etc.) or ballot initiatives (dove hunting) with the crap show of emotional propaganda, self interest and yes religious motives, (the wolf worshipers), we get by taking these matters away from the DNR. It's funny how if we flip the subject to CO2, the anti-DNR/wolf hunting crowd begins calling the pro DNR supporters (in this issue) the anti-science people.

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 9:05am

Finally some logical perspective on the wolf issue in Michigan. There should have been a annual hunting season on wolves in Michigan many years ago to control their burgeoning numbers, but anti-hunters used hack judges in the courts to circumvent sound science and logic instead.

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 9:33am

Richard Smith, etc......the same old tired voices who never wanted any wolves in Michigan, period. They only see Michigan’s wildlife through the narrow perspective of a hunter. Anything that competes with man for the same animals is expendable. I’m surprised hawks and eagles aren’t raged against. You know, they kill grouse and rabbits.

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 1:13pm

Zero people killed or attacked by wolves in Michigan in this or the past century. There have perhaps been some unverified near-attacks on humans by wolves in Michigan. Other than a population range of between 400-1000 wolves in Michigan (that's quite a range), why is there a need to kill wolves? Pet predation? Keep your dogs leashed. Livestock predation? Get the state to reimburse livestock owners for their losses. Oh, the state already does that? Sorry, I still don't see a compelling reason to kill wolves.

Sun, 12/22/2019 - 12:47am

Regarding pet predation -- two issues that come to mind. First, wolves have been coming into residential yards, including fenced yards, to attack pets, at times when the pet owner is also in the yard and clearly visible. Secondly, hunting with dogs is a legal and legitimate pastime in the UP, and it is obviously impossible to hunt with dogs on a leash. Many valuable and highly trained hunting dogs have been killed by wolves. I let my yellow labs run when camping and hiking, as well as bird hunting, in the UP, but am always aware that wolves are in the area and will kill any dog if they get the chance. I keep my dogs close and under voice and whistle control as best I can.

Mon, 12/02/2019 - 2:11pm

The problem with wolf management is the absence of creditable data.

The MDNR hasn't been truthful about wolves (see https://www.bridgemi.com/michigan-environment-watch/michigan-dnr-said-it...), so, who can you believe: Michigan Department of Natural Resources; Trump's United States Fishing and Wildlife Service; politicians; opinion writers; anecdotal reports by news outlets; folklore?

Let's say wolves are a threat to humans. OK, but how does the threat stack up compared to threats from dogs and other animals that may bite, maul and kill?

If we had creditable sources, wolf management decisions would be much easier. We don't!

Evelyn E
Mon, 12/02/2019 - 5:17pm

Maybe we need to start culling humans intent on shooting everything in sight.

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 7:59am

Always an interesting contrast between the Pro- wolf-hunting supporters and the "Never Ever In Any Definable Circumstances Kill a Wolf" contingent. I wonder which side has more folks with direct experience with living amongst wolves and other large predators vs. watching them on nature shows on TV?

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 1:26pm

Always an interesting contrast between the Pro- wolf-hunting supporters and the "Never Ever In Any Definable Circumstances Kill a Wolf" contingent. I wonder which side has more folks with direct experience with encroaching on natural habitats to raise livestock vs the those who understand that keystone species are critical to a healthy, sustainable ecosystem.

Wed, 12/04/2019 - 8:53am

Our DNR can kill wolves that are a threat to humans, they just need federal approval.
Have the feds ever denied such approval? I think not. So maybe there is not actually a problem.
We are managing wolves just fine. Their is no need to "control their burgeoning numbers" in upper Michigan. Wolf numbers have been flat since 2011. We proved we do not need wolf hunts in upper Michigan to maintain their densities.
Whether wolves are ESA protected or not does not change that.

Fri, 12/06/2019 - 10:24am

Very true, and Michigan's one limited hunt didn't even take enough to account for annual recruitment. Wisconsin legally killed hundreds of wolves in three hunt/trap seasons, yet there are more wolves there than ever before. Wolves are hammering northern Wisconsin and U.P. whitetails. Both states have lost thousands of hunters. Deer hunting is a multi-million-dollar economic driver in northern WI and U.P. communities.