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Better management of wolves needed

March 23, 2012
For The Daily Press

ESCANABA - Recent news releases have stirred the pot regarding wolf management and one has to wonder, based on timing, if they were issued strategically to influence those who want carte blanche protection to stay as the status quo.

This is National Wildlife Week, and the National Wildlife Foundation's (NWF) key topic highlighting the event is regarding an energy development issue in Canada, where wolf populations in Alberta are to be reduced to protect the remaining population of caribou.

The NWF is a Washington, D.C. based organization composed of millions of members and associates whose primary interest is in the conservation of our nation's renewable resources.

Their protest of the killing of wolves in the area where (caribou) habitat is being disturbed from tar sands development appears to being exploited for the cause of stopping energy production more than protecting wildlife in a way it should.

Human need always trumps ecosystem protection. If done properly, the environment that protects wildlife can return and animals can adapt as they have for centuries. In this case the need to reduce local wolf populations is fixing blame on development over the fact that wolves have reduced the overall caribou populations to a point that if left unchecked, the remaining herd may itself face total destruction.

They do make a point with the use of poisoned baits laced with strychnine as a method used to reduce wolf levels. The poisoned bait could also be accessed by other wildlife connivers causing incidental kills.

It would make sense that the wolf population wouldn't be "on the bubble" for drastic control had they been managed properly in the first place. If their immediate impact on resident caribou has such high potential to destroy the remaining herd, it tells me they were too high prior to the start of the energy development project. Furthermore, it is not clear as to whether increased hunting of wolves had been considered into the formula to control populations.

Also released on the same day of the NWF spotlight, was a report from Michigan Tech University (MTU) regarding the wolf status on Isle Royale National Park in western Lake Superior from the Associated Press, Environmental Writer John Flesher.

The report indicates that the Isle Royale wolves are at the lowest ebb in more than a half-century and could die out within a couple years.

MTU biologists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich indicated that, "Only nine wolves still wander the wilderness island chain, and just one is known to be a female." As of 2009, there were 24 wolves - roughly their long term average, according to the report.

They indicate the wolves have had a run of bad luck rather than a single catastrophe. The shortage of females and inbreeding has been cause for breakdown of packs and a weakened gene pool. While this appears as a primary result, the true cause is somewhat buried when the report indicates "Other troubles include disease and starvation from a drop-off of moose, the wolves' primary food source."

One would ask why, if the resource managers recognized the decline of the moose due to predation, would you not expect the resident population of wolves to be in jeopardy once they overgrew their range?

When interviewed, John Vucetich states, "The (Isle Royale) wolves are at grave risk of extinction!"

Now there's a timely buzz word for National Wildlife Week.

How much do you want to bet that the topic comes up during negotiations with the Michigan Legislature when hearings begin regarding the conversion of the gray wolf to a game species in our state?

Actually, I hope it does.

Isle Royale and the Alberta, Canada situations are a prime example of the long term results of not managing wolves.

I, like most hunters and fellow conservationists, do not have a problem with a sustainable population of wolves remaining in the mix of wildlife here in Michigan. I did object to them remaining unchecked, especially since they exceeded restoration criteria by six times the recommended levels since 1989.

Other than the disruption to habitat necessitated by the need for more energy resources in Canada, whole populations of wildlife disappear whenever they're left unchecked. The same occurred once before on Isle Royale when a similar outbreak in the 1980's caused the wolf population to plummet from 50 to 12.

While it is reported that agency experts have begun analyzing their options, Isle Royale Superintendent Phyllis Green said, "We don't want to make a decision based on a single species without evaluating the effects on other species that have been part of the ecosystem through time."

It seems to me that there are two simple choices. Either leave them unchecked and let nature take its course, or manage wolves from the beginning as they impact other wildlife to keep changes at a minimum. Mother Nature makes most of the decisions regarding change so we'd best be ready to handle them in the best interest of all wildlife.

Otherwise, what is now occurring is cyclical and will resolve itself, but will take a longer time for nature to restore. That will mean a loss for a longer period of time and is unfair to the wildlife and those humans that want help keep them in balance.


Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.



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