No other wildlife species, it seems, causes such extremes of emotion as the wolf.
Some people want to protect it at any cost.
Others want to shoot the animal on sight.
And in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula illegal wolf kills are spiking.
Wildlife officials say they can defuse the situation if they can just get gray wolves removed from the endangered species list.
Bob Allen reports.
More about the history of wolves in Michigan
More about removing Michigan wolves (included in the western GL wolf population) from the Endangered Species List
Michigan’s Wolf Management Plan
More on Michigan’s Isle Royale Wolves (the longest study of any predator-prey system in the world)
The return of gray wolves to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula more than twenty years ago was not cause for alarm, at first.
But that’s changed drastically in the last few years as more sportsmen are convinced wolves are now decimating the white tail deer population.
Larry Livermore manages the 35,000 acre Hiawatha Sportsman’s Club, about an hour’s drive west of the Mackinaw Bridge.
LIVERMORE: “There was no hatred of wolves until people created the hatred by not allowing them to be managed.”
As long as the wolf is under federal protection it can only be killed if it’s causing imminent threat to human life.
The wolf population in Michigan is more than six times the goal set for them under the Endangered Species Act.
And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now trying for the fourth time to remove gray wolves from the protected list in the Upper Great Lakes states.
So far, national wildlife protection groups have managed to block those efforts in federal court.
The groups contend wolves still need to expand into northeastern states before protections are removed.
Larry Livermore says while all this legal wrangling is going on members at the eighty year old Hiawatha Club are giving up their memberships and selling their places because the deer hunting has become pathetic.
LIVERMORE: “You have a whole bunch of honest law abiding citizens who have finally had enough and say, you don’t care about us, you don’t understand our dilemma here and so we will take it into our own hands. And that’s happening here. People who I never dreamed would say I would shoot a wolf are telling me that they will shoot one.”
There was a spike in illegal wolf kills in the U.P. last year.
Wildlife officials found fifteen collared wolves shot out of an overall population pushing near 700.
And the Department says poaching is on the upswing again this year too.
But Brian Roell is not alarmed about it.
He is the go-to wolf guy for the DNR in Marquette.
He says illegal kills are not reducing the overall population.
And Roell says once federal protection is gone people will stop feeling like the wolf is being treated as a “sacred cow”.
ROELL: “Being able to empower people to actually take some control back is going to go a long way in helping people come to live with wolves.”
DNR officials have a management plan ready to go once the wolf is delisted.
The plan would give people the authority to defend against attacks on their pets and livestock.
And it would allow them to cull wolves in places where they’re putting a lot of pressure on deer.
But some sportsmen’s groups want to go further than that.
They want the state to open a hunting season on them.
Sportsmen say if wolves are treated more like bears with limited harvests then the animals will have some value to people.
But Nancy Warren thinks the top predator has its own value in the natural order of things.
In the summertime, she takes visitors out at night to howl with wolves on her property in the western U.P.
She says the number of deer killed by wolves and reported threats to humans are being exaggerated.
But she agrees the state ought to be able to manage problem wolves.
WARREN: “Let people see that the state is able to manage these wolves. And we could get rid of some of these myths and the misinformation and see that, yeah, we can live with wolves.”
Warren fears a return to the bad old days when wolves were considered varmints and poisoned or shot on sight.
But Brian Roell with the DNR doesn’t see wholesale slaughter of wolves coming back into play.
Because once the wolf comes off the endangered species list, he says, no one is going to want to risk having to put it back on again.