MARQUETTE - Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason has refuted claims made by anti-wolf hunting ballot referendum proponents who suggested wolves in Michigan may be hunted from helicopters or run with dogs.
A coalition of animal welfare, conservation groups and Native American tribes opposed to a Michigan wolf hunt recently launched a referendum campaign, hoping to gather 225,000 signatures to put the issue on the November 2014 ballot.
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected needs 161,300 signatures, but is collecting more in case some are rejected as invalid. The group recently held a meeting in Marquette, the only one in the Upper Peninsula, to organize those who want to collect signatures in the region.
Several additional meetings were scheduled for downstate cities. The coalition is opposed to Michigan establishing a wolf hunt. The Michigan Natural Resources Commission will review information currently being compiled and may decide later this year whether to allow a limited hunt to reduce conflicts with problem wolves, primarily in the western part of the U.P. DNR officials have said using hunters would be an additional tool to deal with wolf conflicts. Currently, the state kills wolves, according to a Wolf Management Plan, by contracting with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services.
The coalition's website and promotional materials state that "Wolf hunting may involve especially cruel and unfair practices, such as painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves."
Aaron Winters, executive director for Kalamazoo Humane Society, which supports the referendum, said the "Kalamazoo Humane Society has always opposed gratuitous and inhumane killing of animals. That's why we strongly back this referendum to prevent the use of cruel and reckless trapping and trophy hunting of the small population of wolves in our state."
State DNR officials contend the hunt, if held, would not be widespread and would not employ some of the methods described. The NRC would set the methods of take, bag limits and other provisions for hunters.
"There's been talk I think, certainly it's been in the press, that we'd have them (hunters) shooting them (wolves) from helicopters," Mason said. "On what planet are we...we aren't doing that -or hunting them with hounds- no. It's an interesting thing, they create great visual images, but they are entirely inconsistent with anything that we have ever ever said."
The coalition said "it's already legal in Michigan to kill wolves that attack livestock or dogs, making a trophy hunting season unnecessary. People don't eat wolves, and they would be killed just for fun and trophies. Trophy hunting and fur trapping of this still-recovering species is premature, inhumane, and unnecessary."
"Wolves have been protected in Michigan for nearly 50 years," said Jill Fritz, Michigan state director for The Humane Society of the United States and director for Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. "With fewer than 700 wolves in Michigan, it's not right to spend decades bringing the wolf back from the brink of extinction only to turn around and allow them to be killed for sport."
Provisions of the federal wolf delisting process ensure wolf populations will be monitored for several years. If the populations falls below accepted levels, the species could be relisted. Mason said the DNR has consistently said a limited wolf hunt would be used to resolve conflict. Mason contends wolves should be managed like any other species in North America.
"The North American model has never failed, not once, not ever, not anywhere," Mason said. "And to suggest otherwise is just entirely inconsistent with 120 years of fact."
Mason said more species from the Endangered Species Act have been taken off the list either because they were put on in error -listed and then populations discovered-or by becoming extinct rather than recovering.
"Protectionism is not a terribly effective strategy," Mason said. "Conservation and wise use, should they go down that path, has always worked and is uniquely North American."
The intent of the referendum would be to reverse legislation passed last month that authorized a wolf hunt and reclassified wolves as a game species.
DNR Director Keith Creagh said if the referendum effort was successful, that would not preclude the state from using current methods to resolve wolf conflicts, including killing of animals by Wildlife Services.