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Tom Watkins

Tom Watkins

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

December 6, 2013

If I lived in the U.P., I would find Trolls (folks living beneath the bridge) sniffing around and sticking their nose in my business and safety something to howl about.

I like wildlife as much as the next person and want our lawmakers to protect our natural resources for generations to come. Yet, a bit of common sense should also be a prerequisite to lawmaking and citizen initiatives as well.

The Michigan Legislature has joined other states in allowing wolves, once an endangered species but now making a strong come back, to be hunted.

It is reported that at least 17 wolves have been killed in the Upper Peninsula during the state’s first wolf hunt in decades. The wolf season started on November 15 and runs through December, unless 43 are killed before the end of the year. Each hunter is limited to one wolf.

It’s the first wolf hunt in Michigan since the wolf was placed on the endangered species list nearly 40 years ago. Twelve hundred people are licensed and able to hunt with a firearm, crossbow or bow and arrow.

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) had estimated the state’s wolf population at 658.

Recently, the Michigan Natural Resource Commission used authority provided through Senate Bill 288, introduced by Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) and signed by Governor Snyder, to develop science based regulations including a limited wolf hunt in Michigan to help manage menacing wolves.

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission scheduled a hunt under authority granted by the Michigan Legislature this summer following approval of a bill designating wolves as a game species.

Michigan is the sixth state to authorize wolf hunting following the removal of federal protections, a testament to the vigorous comeback of a species that was near eradication in the lower 48 states.

Senator Casperson is strongly and appropriately representing his U.P. constituents, especially citizens in the Western U.P. where wolves are concentrated and are killing pets, livestock, and wildlife and creating fear among residents.

Yet, the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected group announced it would seek a new referendum in order to reverse recently enacted legislation that allows the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to manage wolves according to sound science as they do with other game species.

If they succeed, this year’s hunt may be the last. Should it be?

Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected believes this latest step by the legislature and the NRC is an end run around the citizens rights and stated, “Michiganders deserve to have their voices heard on the wolf issue, and we hope they’ll have an opportunity to vote on two ballot measures next year to do just that.”

So, we would have a statewide vote to protect wolves that are not a threat to us Trolls? Is this democracy barking up the wrong tree?

Clearly, in our democratic society the folks at Keep Michigan Wolves Protected have a right to pursue this issue. Yet, should wildlife management really be directed from the ballot box?

Senator Casperson was doing some howling himself stating, “Just as it is their right to pursue a referendum on Michigan law, it is also my right and obligation as senator for the area where wolves are actually located to protect the changing local way of life.”

He continues, “I will be relentless in maintaining management policies to ensure that the people of the Upper Peninsula are heard as they overwhelmingly have pleaded for management efforts, including hunting, to help address problems caused by a growing wolf population in their backyards.”

“After all, U.P. residents are the only people whose daily lives are impacted by wolves in their communities.”

Clearly he has a point.

This debate reminds me of another senator from the U.P. who once famously said about “treehuggers”: “They come to the U.P. with $5 in their pocket and one pair of underwear and don’t change either the entire time they are here.”

Hunters Fire Back

But, not to be outdone, a pro-hunting group, Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management (CPWM), got the okay earlier this week to launch a petition drive that would circumvent two ballot proposals aimed at stopping gray wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula.

The CPWM, a coalition of hunting groups, (the National Rifle Association and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs) wants the Natural Resources Commission to be the sole decider of what species are listed as game animals and can be hunted and how all wildlife is managed in the state.

Like I said, I love nature and wildlife as much as the next guy – yet, it seems Senator Casperson is right- we should decide this issue based on sound science, safety and local control. Will we?

Both sides will be hunting for votes on this issue in the future.

Tom Watkins has been a participant/observer of the political process at the local, state and national level for over 30 years. He can be reached at or follow Watkins on twitter @tdwatkins88

December 5, 2013 · Filed under Tom Watkins

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ken Beedle // Dec 5, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    My parents lived in Hurley, WI, across the border from the U.P. My Dad and I would fish and occasionally hear the wolves. It was a wonderfully primitive sound. I have read about controlled wildlife management and have misgivings even in its successes.

    I live now in Costa Rica where dogs are free to walk into church without disturbance from the congregation. We, for the most part, are tree huggers. An incredible 26% of the land is set aside as National Parks.

    Our home is surrounded by remote tropical dry forest with everything from Fer de Lance snakes to Panthers. So, I have some understanding of the dilemma.

    Let the wolves take care of themselves. They will balance the deer population and other smaller creatures as part of nature’s life cycle. There is enough space in the U.P. to accommodate all.

  • 2 Mike // Dec 6, 2013 at 7:18 am

    Well thought out col.
    Are there more important issues for our state leaders to be fighting over?

  • 3 Lynn Ochberg // Dec 6, 2013 at 10:02 am

    I, for one, wish there were more wolves down in the lower, much lower peninsula where the gross overpopulation of deer have destroyed vegetable and flower gardens in every subdivision. Deer also have destroyed the next potential generation of trees in woodlots across southern Michigan with their voracious appetites.(I write as a sugarbush owner so I know of what I speak) Wildlife managers know of the deer overpopulation problem but so far have not had the resources to address it adequately.
    Veterinarians advise that pets should be kept indoors for their health. The article above addresses the wolf issue much too superficially.

  • 4 Greg Olszta // Dec 6, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Tom articulates the issues well; however, I for one would rather that the Michigan Legislature focus on the wolf population and keep their hands off: 1) the reproductive rights of women; 2) holding back 3rd graders in school; 3) further limiting the right of workers to unionize or control when union members may or may not resign from their union; 4) punishing public sector employees for making a living wage with a reasonable benefit package; 5) making it a God-given legal right to carry firearms anywhere and anytime; 6) increasing the legal limits of political campaign donations, while further limiting the transparency of the source of those donations; 7) capping Michigan’s unlimited personal injury protection auto insurance coverage at $1 million. Compared to the above, determining the legal limits of wolf hunting may be the best use of their time and energy.

  • 5 Steve Harry // Dec 6, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Democracy must always be foremost, and that means majority rule. We are losing that in Michigan with gerrymandered voting districts, legislation made referendum-proof by appropriations and other measures designed to take away the people’s right to decide. It is true that the majority may occasionally err – in someone’s opinion, anyway – but the majority can always go back and correct its errors.

  • 6 Will Vandermolen // Dec 7, 2013 at 6:43 am

    This is a well written article. The Lower Peninsula, including the Metro Detroit area, had a healthy wolf population two centuries ago based on primary accounts by the early settlers. As the population expanded, those settlers killed the wolves as they presented a well understood threat to both livestock and humans. The lack of conservation at the time was unfortunate. Equally unfortunate are groups like Keep Michigan Wolves Protected which addresses the issue with emotion, often not based on reality. Yoopers are living with the reality of a growing wolf population. Casperson has the right idea by allowing the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to rationally manage the state’s wolf population using sound scientific management and other conservation principles rather than management through politics.

  • 7 Tim // Dec 9, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    Setting the story straight on Michigan’s wolf hunting season

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