Thanks to recent changes in Michigan, hunters in the state may soon have the opportunity to add another animal to their list of game: wolves.
But with the already paltry number of wolf populations in Michigan, is the state making the right choice in letter hunters kill or trap these animals? As enthusiastic about hunting as we are, we're not so sure. According to a recent op-ed piece published in LiveScience--and written by the president of the Humane Society of the United States--Michigan is playing hard and fast with a dwindling species. The piece of Michigan legislature that recently added wolves to the list of game species seemingly passed through the state government moments after the federal government removed wolves from the "threatened species" list. Of course, there is a substantial gap between "threatened species" and "species in need of population control" that even a passionate hunter can recognize, which makes Michigan's decision to allow the hunting of wolves that much more surprising.
The Humane Society, predictably, thinks the new legislature is rash and misguided. According to the aforementioned article, there are only about 700 wolves left in Michigan - a "recovering" population that could quickly be decimated by hunters. That low number presents a few difficulties. First, there's the obvious ethical issue of hunting a species that is struggling. Very few hunters would think twice about going after deer or Canadian Geese, because those populations have absolutely exploded in recent years, and hunting is an important safeguard that needs to be in place for population control. With a number as finite as 700, many hunters may feel a pang in their conscience if they even consider pursuing wolves as a game species.
Secondly, when population numbers are that low, getting a license to hunt the game in question is often more of a hassle than it is worth. No hunter likes going through a lottery system or paying more to hunt a new kind of game, and if there are indeed only 700 wolves left in Michigan, we would assume that hunters wanting a piece of that game will likely have to jump through a dozen different hoops to get their hands on a specialized wolf hunting license. Even those who do secure a license won't be able to get much out of it. We can't imagine the bag limit for wild wolves will be more than one per season. Why not just work a little harder to hone your deer hunting skills?
A glance at Michigan's Department of Natural Resources website shows that our assumptions are accurate. The DNR is charging a substantial amount for a wolf hunting license ($100 for residents and $500 for non-residents), and has limited wolf hunting to three very specific areas (or "Wolf Management Units") in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The bag limit for each wolf hunting license is one, and the kicker is that the harvest limit for the entire season is 43 wolves. That means that many hunters could pay for a wolf hunting license and never get the chance to bag one of the animals before the harvest number is reached and the licenses become worthless. No thanks.
So if hunting wolves is not necessary for population control, and if would present a convoluted licensing process for hunters, then why does Michigan want its citizens hunting wolves and why would any hunter want to answer the call of duty? We wondered if the reason was hidden elsewhere, perhaps in the behaviors of the wolf populations residing in the state. Had their been reports of aggressive wolves near cities, communities, or neighborhoods? Had a pack of wolves done damage to a piece of public property? Were wolves attacking or hurting family pets, or worse, children?
As it turns out, the answer to all of these questions is no. The new legislature in Michigan is not targeting problem wolves, nor is it the result of a specific newsworthy event. In fact, the killing of problem wolves has been legal in Michigan for ages for the reasons discussed above, but wolf species have still proven to be remarkably unthreatening in the state. As the Humane Society notes, there hasn't been a documented human attack by a wolf, not just in Michigan, but in the entire lower 48 states, in over 100 years.
If that's the case, then why is Michigan's government so adamant about adding wolves to the "fair game" list for this hunting season, and should ethical hunters want to be involved? Michigan has certainly seen enough opposition to their recent hunting ruling to question whether or not it was the right choice--the Humane Society collected 255,000 signature on a petition calling for a reconsideration of the bill--but the state's Natural Resources Commission has not budged, suggesting that someone on the inside must have something to gain from getting wolves on the hunting list.
It's all very fishy, and our first instinct is to recommend that Michigan hunters simply steer clear of wolf hunting. Obviously, there is a large coalition of people in the state who are vehemently against the prospect, and most hunters don't need any more people lecturing about the ethics of their hobby. Furthermore, is there any point in hunting wolves anyway? The animals offer no edible meat, and from the sounds of the DNR wolf harvest numbers, they would be little more than a frustration to hunt. The average hunter could see so much more success by sticking with more conventional game.
Our snap judgment about Michigan's reasoning for putting wolves back on the hunting list is that the state is looking to take economic advantage of the species' recent exit from the federal threatened species list. Michigan's economy was hit harder than most other areas of the country, but hunting is a huge export in the area, and introducing a new animal into the hunting spectrum--one that costs $100 to $500 to hunt, no less--could give the state government and the Department of Natural Resources a small but notable cash flow. If you don't want Michigan taking advantage of your wallet and your passion for hunting, then join the Humane Society of the United States in boycotting Michigan's new wolf hunting legislation. There is enough game out there to go around without bringing an unstable species into the equation.