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Michigan senator wants only Yoopers to decide future of wolf hunting

wolf
Wolf advocates and foes are gearing up for a long and heated battle over whether Michigan should hunt wolves, after the animals lost federal Endangered Species Act protections this year. (Courtesy of Michigan DNR)

June 10: Michigan Senate passes bill to create a Yoopers-only wolf council

A Michigan senator wants only residents of the Upper Peninsula – a region with just 3 percent of the state’s human population but all of its wolves – to serve on the body that helps decide whether Michigan hunters can kill wolves for sport.

Senator Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, introduced a bill on Wednesday that would require each member of the state’s wolf management advisory council to be a Yooper.

Although the council is not a decision-making body, it wields considerable influence over Michigan’s wolf policy. Members of the appointed state Natural Resources Commission rely on the group’s advice as they set wolf management policy, including deciding whether to allow hunting.

 

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The bill comes as wolf hunting advocates and opponents lobby the commission, which is expected to decide in the coming months whether to open season on the state’s wolves.

That looming choice follows a Trump administration decision last year to strip wolves of their federal protected status, leaving states in charge of their own wolf populations. In Michigan, for now, recreational hunting is still illegal, although it’s legal to kill wolves that are in the act of killing or wounding livestock or dogs.

McBroom and other U.P. lawmakers have long complained that since U.P. residents must live alongside wolves, they should get more say over the state’s wolf policies than Lower Peninsula residents.

McBroom said there is currently just one Yooper among the six council members.

At last count, Michigan was home to just under 700 wolves, all of them in the Upper Peninsula. There, some farmers and ranchers complain that wolves threaten their livestock and suppress deer herds. Residents of small towns trade unsubstantiated horror stories about wolf conflicts with humans.

But when downstate votes are factored in, enthusiasm for wolf protections is substantial. Michigan voters in 2014 passed two referendums that rejected the concept of a wolf hunt, although the measures were counteracted by yet another law to authorize hunting. 

"Nobody would accept the idea of only having people from the U.P. deciding what goes on with the downstate elk herd," McBroom said. If downstate residents want a stake in the wolf debate, he said, "we'd be happy" to entertain the idea of relocating wolves below the bridge

In March, senators adopted a McBroom-sponsored resolution urging the Natural Resources Commission to authorize a hunt this year, but commissioners have instead opted to wait for direction from the wolf management council and DNR staff. 

Currently the council must include DNR Director Dan Eichinger or a designee, plus members representing conservation, hunting or fishing interests, tribal government, agriculture and animal advocacy. Members can come from any part of the state.

 

McBroom is not the only one taking issue with the council’s makeup. The bill comes as a wolf advocacy group, the 06 Legacy, sues the Michigan Department of Natural Resources arguing that the agency has stacked the wolf council with hunting advocates.

The group’s president and founder, Karol Miller, criticized McBroom’s bill as an attempt to further tip the scales in favor of hunting interests.

All Michiganders have a stake in wolf management policy, Miller said, and “we shouldn’t be distinguishing in terms of public policy based on whether people live on one side of the bridge or the other.”

DNR spokesperson Ed Golder said the agency does not have a position on the bill.

Amy Trotter, a Lower Peninsula resident, sits on the wolf management advisory council and is a member of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), a conservation group that supports wolf hunting.

The group’s Upper Peninsula members, she said, “certainly feel ownership and sometimes the burden of being neighbors with wolves.” But, Trotter said, she sees no reason to limit the council’s membership to U.P. residents. 

One solution offered by Trotter is to expand membership to better represent the U.P. 

The political and legal jockeying over the council’s makeup appears to have stalled its work. More than three months since members were appointed, the group has yet to hold its first meeting. 

McBroom’s bill is scheduled for a hearing Wednesday in the Senate Natural Resources Committee, which he chairs.

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