BY KRISTEN LEFORCE
Wolves that attack livestock or dogs can now be controlled by lethal measures. The decision to remove the Gray Wolf from the Endangered Species List (ESA) in Michigan, came on January 27.
This returned the management authority over to the Department of Natural Resources where wolves will remain a protected, non-game species. Delisting the Gray Wolf from the ESA has many conservation groups concerned about the future success of a recently reestablished species.
Historically, rising tensions between this important carnivore and man have led to bloodshed. Because wolves often prey on cattle that are integral to the livelihood of farmers, they were ruthlessly hunted almost to extinction.
Now that they are no longer protected, some states, like Minnesota and Idaho, are considering holding wolf-hunting seasons, which could occur as early as this fall. While hunting wolves is not currently a part of Michigan’s management plan, some wonder what the future will hold.
The wolf was once widespread across most of North America, but centuries of misconceptions and hostility towards these important carnivores led to intense human persecution. This, coupled with extensive habitat loss, effectively wiped out the species by the twentieth century.
In Michigan, wolves were once present in all eighty-three counties, but nearly vanished by 1960. By the time the ESA was passed in 1973, it was estimated that only six wolves inhabited Michigan’s Isle Royale.
Since then, the state’s wolf population has rebounded without much human interference. Through reproduction, the population is now currently estimated at approximately 687 individuals. Frustrations in the Upper Peninsula have built over the last decade alongside growing wolf numbers, where many wolves have undoubtedly been killed illegally through a practice commonly known as, “Shoot, shovel, and shut up.”
It is important to understand that portrayal in movies like “The Grey,” where this animal is shown as aggressive and violent, are gross misinterpretations that serve only to increase the animosity that might get them killed.
Large carnivores play a dynamic and very important role in maintaining the health of ecosystems. They prey mostly on the young or elderly, sick or injured, the weak or unfit. This keeps prey populations healthy through natural selection and keeps their numbers in check.
By preventing large herbivores like deer from overpopulating, wolves also protect plant-eating communities from overgrazing, which can make the habitat less suitable for other species. Anyone who has seen the deer roaming campus at night or had one seemingly run straight into their car can appreciate 17,000 to 29,000 less deer in the state a year.
Wolves are an integral and irreplaceable part of a greater ecosystem, but the 5,000 Gray Wolves existing today are a mere shadow of the hundreds of thousands that once roamed the continent. While conflicts between humans and wolves need to be managed, their importance to the natural ecosystem and our valued resources must not be overlooked. Hopefully the DNR, state legislatures, and the public can decide upon a common sense approach to wolf management in the future.
Join the Student Environmental Association as they explore this topic at their upcoming Science Café on Feb. 9th at 4:30 in the EIC. Guest speakers will include Dorothy McLeer, Program Coordinator and Interpretive Naturalist for the EIC, and Chris Hoving, a DNR Adaptations Specialist.
For questions or comments, email the SEA at firstname.lastname@example.org.