WestSouthwest: The Michigan Wolf Hunt

Dec 31, 2013

Wolves on Isle Royale
Credit J.A. Vucetich and R.O. Peterson

WMUK correspondent Brian Peterson, who is also an Assistant Professor in Western Michigan University's Environmental Studies Department, discusses Michigan's wolf hunt with Michigan Technological University biologist John Vucetich. 

For centuries humans have feared wolves. In 1630 the residents of the Massachusetts Bay Colony placed a bounty on wolves, the first in this country, followed by Michigan in 1838. By 1935 the bounty system led to the killing of the last wolf in Yellowstone National Park. Once extirpated from much of the continental United States, wolf populations have recovered in many areas.

In Michigan the population has recovered to such levels that the state initiated a controversial wolf hunt on November 15. Recently delisted from the Endangered Species Act across the continental United States, excepting for a New Mexico population, management responsibilities for wolf management now falls to the states in which they reside.

The Michigan Natural Resource Commission, in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources, studied the wolf situation and established the hunt this year, allowing for 43 wolves to be taken from three units in the Upper Peninsula. The hunt to date has led to 17 wolves culled in the Upper Peninsula and closes on December 31.

Sharp disagreement exists as to whether the state should conduct the hunt. Proponents of the hunt have offered two primary reasons, human safety and protecting wildlife. Michigan Technical University wolf biologist John Vucetich, who has studied Michigan wolves for over a decade, does not think either reason has merit. He says that “the idea that wolves are a threat to human safety is a complete fabrication” and he says that killing 43 wolves will not reduce wolves killing cattle and to do so would require more precise management, not a open hunt that will likely take animals that had no part in preying on cattle.

The wolf population in Michigan is estimated at over 700 individuals. Scientists, including Vucetich believe it is a healthy population. Killing 43 wolves would not jeopardize the health or viability of the population. But does that warrant the hunt? Hunters argue that the large population warrants the hunt. Opponents argue that the hunt has no scientific justification. The state has allowed for 43 to be killed, but opponents argue that the number is arbitrary.

Dr. Vucetich has not heard a compelling reason for the hunt and says that “You shouldn’t kill a living creature without a good reason. I have not met a hunter that believes otherwise.” Most Michigan residents will never see a wolf in the wild. Despite the population’s large numbers, wolves remain reclusive and rarely seen. As a result, some do not see the point in arguing over whether to hunt wolves. Dr. Vucetich believes otherwise. He says that wolf management has much larger implications: “That we relate to wolves properly is very indicative of how it is that we are going to relate to nature in general.”