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Dana Nessel to review Michigan DNR handling of wolf kill records

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is reviewing whether state officials improperly blocked or delayed the release of public records relating to their efforts to have protected gray wolves killed three years ago, her office told Bridge Magazine.

Nessel is responding to a recent Bridge investigation that detailed how the state Department of Natural Resources used Michigan’s weak public information laws to shield the agency from scrutiny over the 2016 shootings of three endangered gray wolves at an Upper Peninsula farm.

The DNR has long insisted the wolves posed a danger to humans, citing an incident in the spring of 2016 where a wolf from the Ontonagon pack raced past a DNR employee to kill a calf on the Dykstra beef farm. The wolf’s aggressive attack in a worker’s presence was enough to secure federal approval to shoot the wolves, under an exception to the U.S. Endangered Species Act. 

Bridge’s report showed that the state agency’s justification for the wolf kills was false. No wolf raced past a worker that day to kill a calf, as DNR internal emails and other documents secured by Bridge made clear.

Rather, internal documents and other public records secured by Bridge indicate the wolves were shot after they decimated herds of high-priced beef cattle at the Dykstra farm, costing the state tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements.

The distinction matters because the Endangered Species Act allows the killing of federally protected animals if they pose a danger to people. But it forbids their killing for attacking livestock. Violators can face up to a year in jail

Following Bridge’s article Friday, Nessel said her office would examine the state’s actions in the handling of public records involving the wolves. Michigan has been rated among the least transparent states in the nation in providing access to records. 

 “The Attorney General will review the allegations in the story and investigate any credible claims that officials violated [Freedom of Information Act] or other laws,” spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney told Bridge. 

“I would say it’s an atypical situation and the AG is taking it seriously. It has her personal attention.” 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had a different reaction. “She trusts the DNR’s Wildlife Division’s ability to determine and evaluate wildlife threats to human safety,” spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in a statement to Bridge. 

The state estimates more than 600 gray wolves now roam the state’s Upper Peninsula. Their resurgence has created tensions between conservation groups and farmers and ranchers whose livestock are threatened by the predators. 

The Trump administration is currently considering whether to remove gray wolves from the list of protected animals under the Endangered Species Act in the Lower 48 states, which could impede their recovery of animals once on the verge of extinction.

About the author
John Barnes worked at The Grand Rapids Press and for 33 years. He specialized in investigative journalism and most recently oversaw journalism  projects for’s eight newspapers statewide. Barnes has reported extensively on gun rights, criminal justice, traffic safety, the outdoors and medical issues.

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