Wolf-livestock debate continues

Groups differ on how to manage species

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources favors the sustainable management of wolves, although others believe non-lethal methods can be used to manage the species. (Photo courtesy of John and Karen Hollingsworth/USFWS)

MARQUETTE — The Michigan Department of Natural Resources believes wolves should be managed for a variety of reasons, not just to cut down on livestock predation.

Others might disagree.

The National Wolfwatcher Coalition has noted that throughout the Upper Peninsula, only five out of 900 livestock operations, or about .006 percent, experienced a conflict with wolves in 2017. The number is down from 2016 when seven U.P. livestock farms experienced a loss due to wolves.

The coalition analyzed data obtained through the Freedom of Information of Act and loss compensation records the DNR, as well as the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, maintain.

Records indicated that of the nearly 50,000 head of cattle in the U.P., wolves were responsible for the deaths of five calves and an adult cow.

Michigan livestock producers are compensated the full market value for livestock killed by wolves, the coalition said.

“Several scientific studies suggest that hunting or lethal control of wolves, even in an area adjacent to depredations, is not effective,” said Nancy Warren, NWC executive director and a U.P. resident, in a news release. “Instead, experts recommend the use of non-lethal tools such as donkeys, guard dogs, lights, fladry and fencing,tyj which have been proven to be effective in minimizing losses to native carnivores.”

Fladry is defined as flagging interspersed on a strand of cordage.

The coalition noted that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, respiratory, calving and digestive problems along with weather are the top killers of livestock.

“Except in the movies, wolves pose little risk to humans,” Warren said. “But even though wolves in the Great Lakes states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota remain under the protection of the federal Endangered Species Act, the lethal removal of wolves that are even perceived to be a threat to humans is still permitted.”

Wolves provide many ecological benefits and with few conflicts and a stable population, there is no demonstrated basis for conducting proactive lethal control of wolves or reducing wolf numbers, the NWC said.

However, Kevin C. Swanson, the Marquette-based wildlife management specialist with the DNR’s Bear and Wolf Program, said his agency disagrees with the ruling that puts wolves on the federal Endangered Species List.

“The data expressed that they fully recovered here in the Upper Peninsula,” Swanson said.

The DNR, he said, hopes to have the authority to manage wolves.

According to the DNR website at www.michigan.gov/dnr, because of the significant recovery of the wolf population in the U.P., which was estimated at only 20 animals in 1992, the Michigan Legislature removed wolves from the state list of endangered species in April 2009, and reclassified wolves as a protected, nongame species.

In January 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota from the federal Endangered Species List and returned management authority to the state level. However, in December 2014, a federal court order returned wolves to the federal list. An appeal of this decision is ongoing.

Swanson said the DNR is currently conducting a wolf survey, which is undertaken very other year. What he called a “conservative” count for 2015-16 estimated the wolf population at 618 in the state.

Swanson acknowledged it’s important for the DNR to address predator conflicts when they happen, although they differ between the Great Lakes states.

“If you compare Michigan with Wisconsin or Minnesota, the number of wolf depredations pale in comparison simply because we have fewer livestock producers,” Swanson said.

It’s the DNR’s role, he stressed, to “cautiously manage” bears sustainably for its constituents and the public.

“A hunt does not have to be based on conflict alone,” Swanson said.

He said the DNR hopes the federal listing issue will come up again, noting there is pending legislation that would remove the wolf from the endangered list in some states.

One of those states is Michigan.

Swanson said that until that issue is resolved, the DNR will continue to monitor wolves, with a new population estimate expected in late April.

He also pointed out that whitetail deer numbers are rebounding quickly in U.P., which could lead to fewer livestocks deaths from wolves because of the increased food options from another source.

“Whitetails are a main food source for wolves here,” Swanson said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.