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Federal judge kills chances of Michigan wolf hunt

wolf
The Michigan DNR says the option of a wolf hunt does not exist when the animal is designated as an endangered species. (Shutterstock)

A federal court in California has reinstated endangered species protections for the gray wolf, laying to rest debates about whether Michigan regulators should approve a wolf hunt.

The Thursday ruling criminalizes killing gray wolves in 48 states and comes days after Michigan legislators passed a resolution urging the Department of Natural Resources to support a hunt in the Upper Peninsula.

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It also immediately suspends two state laws governing the ability to kill wolves preying on livestock, pets and hunting dogs. The now-suspended state laws allow hunting dog owners and farmers to remove, capture or kill a wolf if it is preying on their animals.

The Natural Resource Commission is responsible for changing hunting and trapping regulations for wildlife, like wolves. Ed Golder, the DNR’s spokesperson, said the state won’t consider a wolf hunt when the animal is federally classified as endangered.

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Gray wolf populations are centered throughout the Great Lakes and northern Rocky Mountains. At least 695 wolves were known to be in the Upper Peninsula as of winter 2020.

The ruling relieves Michigan’s Native American tribes, said Nichole Biber, lead of the wolf preservation team for the Anishinaabek Caucus of the Democratic Party, which promotes the interest and concerns of Michigan’s indigenous population.

“This is an important time for indigenous nations, and our allies, to shift the conversation in a permanent way, and pursue co-existence as a priority in earnest,” Biber said.

NRC Chair Carol Rose said re-listing the wolves as an endangered species is surprising. The commission was waiting on a DNR wolf management plan, which outlines population goals and guidance, before deciding on a wolf hunt. The DNR will release its plan in the summer. 

“When the wolves are delisted again (from federal protection,) we’ll be ready to manage wolves in whatever fashion is deemed appropriate,” Rose said.

Part of developing a wolf management plan is considering the general public’s input. The commission on Thursday discussed results from a Michigan State University survey of public attitudes about wolves. 

About half of Michiganders think it’s acceptable to hold a wolf hunt and a third oppose it, according to the survey. Nearly 75 percent of respondents living in the Upper Peninsula want a wolf hunt and less than 25 percent oppose it. Three percent of the state’s population lives in the Upper Peninsula. 

A majority of Downstate residents want the wolf population to stay the same while residents in the Upper Peninsula generally want the population to decline to very low numbers.

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Shawn Riley, an MSU fisheries and wildlife professor,  said the sampling was weighted heavily to the Upper Peninsula to give voice to the people living near wolves. Riley said he got a lower response rate than he expected from southern Lower Peninsula residents.

Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, introduced a resolution urging the DNR to support a wolf hunt because of the population’s impact on Upper Peninsula livestock. McBroom said the federal court’s re-enlistment is “incredibly frustrating and stupid.”

McBroom said a California federal judge’s opinion should not outweigh biologists with the Fish and Wildlife Services and the Michigan DNR. McBroom said the Endangered Species Act is not a management tool and that Michigan’s wolf populations need to be controlled.

“Now the only rule is you can’t do anything,” McBroom said. “You’re forcing people to do things behind the scenes, to become criminals. That’s not management and that’s not better for the wolves either.”

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