One of the major points of contention concerning Michigan policy in the last couple years has been the wolf hunt issue. This case in particular serves as an interesting example because there were many actors that played important roles in the wolf hunt scenario. The state legislature, state agencies, nongovernmental agencies, federal court, and the public all contributed to the direction this issue took. Through their actions, a clearer understanding of the feasibility of each proposal in the wolf hunting debate can be accurately gleaned, and will help to explain the current state of the issue.
The issue began to take shape in 2012, after federal protection was lifted from the gray wolf in Michigan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With wolves no longer on the list of threatened or endangered species, the state now had authority to manage the roughly 640 wolves in the Upper Peninsula as they saw fit. It was suggested that a hunt be enacted to control the population. Senator Tom Casperson of Escanaba was the major proponent of this management method, stating that the people of the UP have overwhelmingly desired a policy that would deal with problems caused by the growing wolf population. The major cause for concern was the growing number of attacks on cattle and domesticated dogs. This has been known to occur in other areas of the country with growing wolf populations, as one study found in Minnesota that some wolves can tend to see dogs as prey and persist in seeking out dogs in localized areas for a prolonged period of time. In Michigan, the numbers spoke for themselves in the minds of wolf hunt advocates, as there were 136 verified attacks on 218 livestock and dogs from 2010 to 2013. With these figures in mind, the push to designate a hunt on the gray wolves in the Upper Peninsula began.
In 2012, Public Act 520 was signed into law by Governor Snyder, which established a wolf hunting season in the Upper Peninsula. It was then that a strong anti-wolf hunt force began to organize. In response to the law, the anti-hunt camp successfully filed petitions to hold a referendum on PA 520 on the November 2014 ballot as Proposal 1. Until then the content of the Act was suspended, however the legislature took a different approach and had Public Act 21 of 2013 enacted. This measure granted the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) the ability to designate game species. By doing this, the state legislature rendered Proposal 1 moot and was able to get around this hindrance set by the anti-wolf hunt movement. But, those that opposed the hunt then sought to make PA 21 subject to a referendum. They were successful in this endeavor as well, placing Proposal 2 on the November ballot as well and suspending PA 21 until the vote. In the meantime, a wolf hunt did occur in 2013. From that hunt, 23 wolves were harvested out of three specific zones in the Upper Peninsula that were the areas subject to be hunted on. After this, the future of the wolf hunt remained up in the air.
Before the election would occur however, another movement would help to guarantee both the authority of the NRC to designate game species and the likelihood of a wolf hunt occurring. Signatures were gathered and filed with the Secretary of State in 2014 that allowed for an indirect initiative to be brought before the state legislature to either be voted on or placed on the ballot. This measure, known as the Natural Resources Commission Initiative, was then approved by the legislature and effectively made Proposal 2 moot as well. Before this law would take effect, Proposals 1 and 2 were both rejected by voters, which meant that both PA 520 and 21 were no longer valid. Because of this move and the NRC Initiative law, titled the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, not taking effect until 2015, there was no wolf hunt in the year 2014. Though it seemed as though the road was smoothly paved for a hunt to occur in 2015 and continue into the years ahead, in late December of 2014 a federal judge ruled that the removal of the gray wolf in the Great Lakes Region from the endangered species list violated the Endangered Species Act. This meant that wolves would once again be placed back on the endangered species list and could no longer be hunted in Michigan and other states where the federal protections were lifted from them in 2012. Currently, the federal protections remain in place, making the future of another wolf hunt unsure in the state of Michigan.
Though it is important to have a good understanding of the procedural directions this issue has taken throughout its history, it is also equally important to understand who the stakeholders were in this process and the effect their involvement had. The major opponent to the hunt, and all the legislation that would have perpetuated it, was the Keep Michigan Wolves Protection organization. This group, which was an arm of the Humane Society of the United States, was the driving force behind getting Proposals 1 and 2 on the November ballot. They were able to raise over $3 million for their cause, with the majority of contributions coming from the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund. With this money, they were able to launch a campaign across Michigan to, as they put it on their website, “restore protections to Michigan’s small wolf population and restore the rights of voters to have a meaningful say on important wildlife issues.” It is their belief that the population of wolves in the UP, as it currently stands, is not large enough in numbers to warrant a hunt. Along with this, they do not believe there is any scientific evidence to support the hunt. They have also expanded upon their message to include the notion that voters were being bypassed by the legislature in granting the NRC the ability to name game species. By framing both of these messages accordingly, they are able to both appeal to Michiganders affinity towards wildlife and strong values they hold towards the democratic process. It was for this reason, they claim, that both Proposals were rejected by voters on the November 2014 ballot.
Regarding the proponents of the wolf hunt, Republicans in the House of Representatives and the Senate were instrumental in the passage of both PA 520 and 21. Because they held a majority in both chambers, they were able to easily pass Senate Bill 1350 (PA 520) with all Republicans and a few Democrats voting “Yea”. The same party lines were drawn in the Senate as well, signaling that this would end up being a partisan issue. Senate Bill 288 (PA 21) followed the same pattern, but in this instance Democrats became more vocal on their opposition. Senator Elizabeth Warren raised concerns about granting the NRC the ability to name game species because they are an unelected body of the government, which would take away an important aspect of the democratic process. This mentality was similarly echoed by the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected organization. Nevertheless, both bills were signed by Governor Snyder because the Republicans stood behind their colleague, Senator Casperson, in ensuring these measures were implemented. Once both Acts were subject to referendum, a new non-governmental agency came to the forefront in an attempt to render the Proposals meaningless.
The group Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management (CPWM) came to the forefront at this time and began circulating petitions to retain the designation of wolves as game species, along with keeping the right to name game species with the Natural Resources Commission and appropriating $1 million to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to manage aquatic invasive species. Because there was an appropriation included in the initiative, if passed it would become immune to a referendum by the public. By having this measure garner the appropriate amount of signatures and getting it signed into law as the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, CPWM effectively blocked the road for those opposed to the hunt to take further action. Though, it was the claim by CPWM that they did not seek this measure solely because of the wolf hunt. Drew YoungeDyke, a spokesperson for the organization, explained that the primary goal of the initiative was to provide more funding to fight invasive species and offer free licenses to military members, which was a part of PA 21 as well. Like KPWM, this organization framed their issue in this specific way in an effort to gain more support.
Other supporters of keeping the hunt instated included the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. After the 2013 hunt, the DNR described it as a success. However, as has been shown from past research, not much data can be gathered on the impact the hunt actually had on the population of wolves. It takes several years for the effects of a harvest of animals to be fully understood. The DNR claimed it was successful because of the evolution of values displayed towards wolves in the past 50 years. There used to be a bounty on the heads of wolves, which led to their close annihilation in the state. Now, their numbers have rebounded exponentially and people can pay the state to have the opportunity to hunt them. It is the main outlook of the DNR to ensure sound wildlife management strategies, which is why they do not argue for or against the move by the legislature and the initiative by CPWM to grant the NRC the authority to designate game species. With this emphasis solely on the wolf hunt in mind, the DNR appealed the ruling by a federal judge that reinstated federal protections on wolves in Michigan. It is currently under review, but this measure displays the Michigan Department of Natural Resource is in favor of the wolf hunt continuing, or at least having better management practices in use that are otherwise blocked because of the current status of wolves.
Throughout this entire discussion, there seems to be a lack of scientific expertise weighing in heavily on the issue. Though both sides claim that they are basing their stances on sound scientific evidence, from my research there seems to be a lack of scientific information readily available. Those who are quoted from either Keep Michigan Wolves Protected or Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management are simply spokespeople for those organizations. By no means are these representatives professional wildlife managers or biologists of any sort. Within the legislature, clearly the elected officials are not experts on the issue either. Though they say they are basing their respective votes, whether for or against the measure to institute a wolf hunt, on scientific evidence, it is never discussed any further with specific figures or findings. In fact, the only mention of a wolf expert weighing in by saying that wolves were staring through homeowner’s glass doors and were unabated by the people making loud noises and banging on the glass was proven to be false. This makes it clear that real experts should have been granted more say on the matter, which would have lessened the unnecessary amount of emotional testimony that has made this issue so divisive.
With these conflicts still occurring, what seem to be some viable solutions at this point? A measure of some sort should certainly be taken, as it is anticipated that as the population and number of wolves grow in the Upper Peninsula, the risk for livestock predation will also increase. Currently, there does not seem to be any form of compromise between the competing factions. It is unclear whether this is because there is not a level of common ground that can be reached, or the organizations are not willing to try to reach a compromise. Regardless of the reason, it appears that any efforts to mitigate a solution agreed upon by all parties would be fruitless. The most recent actions taken by KPWM seem to underline this notion. At the beginning of April this year, they filed a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims that contended that the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act violated the Constitution of Michigan in three ways. Even though wolves are currently protected from being hunted after the federal court ruling, KPWM is ardent in its desire to eliminate all possibilities of a hunt occurring. It is arguably the case that they will not budge from their primary goal, which makes a solution that benefits both parties nearly impossible to achieve.
The same seems to be true for the Republicans in the Michigan legislature, especially Senator Casperson. The methods they employed to block the two Proposals certainly show their desire to ensure the wolf hunt continues. These moves are somewhat unique regarding an issue of natural resource policy, as it is often the case that such issues are not shown great importance in the “decision agenda” of government. On this agenda, issues are placed up for decisive action by the legislature, such as passing legislation. The wolf hunt issue has been shown tremendous importance by the state government, and between them and the agencies that are in charge of implementing wildlife management, there does not seem to be a push towards lessening the emphasis on the wolf hunt.
At this point, the future of the hunt will depend on court rulings that are currently under review. If wolves have federal protections lifted from them, the lawsuit against the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act will still stand as an impediment towards reinstituting another hunt. However, both parties will be vehemently fighting for their respective sides, so the future of the hunt remains unclear. Though there is not a definitive solution to this issue, or even a clear direction as to which this issue will take at this point, the wolf hunt serves as a distinct example of utilizing several aspects of the democratic process to influence and reshape policy at the state level.
Barnes, J. (2013, November 3). Michigan's wolf hunt: how half truths, falsehoods and one
farmer distorted reasons for historic hunt. Mlive. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/11/michigans_wolf_hunt_how_half_t.html
Creel, Scott, & Rotella, Jay J. (2010). Meta-analysis of relationships between human offtake,
total mortality and population dynamics of gray wolves (canis lupus). Public Library of Science. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0012918
Edge, J. L., Beyer, D. E. Jr., Belant, J. L., Jordan, M. J., Roell, B. J. (2011, March). Adapting a
predictive spatial model for wolf Canis spp. predation on livestock in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan, USA. Wildlife Biolog, 17, pp. 1-10. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.2981/10-043
Flesher, J. (2014, December 23). Federal judge: great lakes wolves return to endangered list.
Associated Press. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/lansing-news/index.ssf/2015/04/michigan_lawsuit_seeks_to_over.html
Fritts, S. H. & Paul, W. J. (1989). Interactions of wolves and dogs in Minnesota.
Wildlife Society Bulletin, 17, pp. 121-123. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3782636
Haeuber, Richard (1998, March 31). Ecosystem management and environmental policy in the
United States: open window or closed door? ScienceDirect. doi:10.1016/S0169-2046(97)00115-1
Journal of the House of Representatives. (2013, May 2). State of Michigan. Retrieved from
Journal of the Senate. (2013, April 25). State of Michigan. Retrieved from
Klug, F. (2013, November 3). Database: search all verified wolf attacks in Michigan from 1996-
2013. Mlive. Retrieved from
Klug, F. (2014, January 1). DNR calls first Michigan wolf hunt a 'success;' issue to continue to
2014 ballot. Mlive. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2014/01/dnr_calls_first_michigan_wolf.html
Legislative Analysis: Wolf Hunt Initiative. (2014, August 22). House Fiscal Agency. Retrieved
Michigan Wolf Hunting Referendum. (2014). Retrieved April 13, 2015 from
Michigan Wolf Management Plan. (2015). Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/draft_wolf_plan_update_482755_7.pdf
Oosting, J. (2015, April 8). Michigan wolf hunt foes file suit to overturn law as debate over
federal protections continues. Mlive. Retrieved from http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2014/12/19/great-lakes-wolves-ordered-returned-endangered-list/20655023/
Renewed Wolf Hunting Referendum Effort Launched. (2013, July 3). Michigan Senate
Republicans. Retrieved from http://www.senatortomcasperson.com/renewed-wolf-hunting-referendum-effort-launched/