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Why hunt wolves?

As you probably know by now, Michigan last year declared wolves a game animal, and, for the first time in more than 40 years, is allowing hunters to shoot them in some parts of the Upper Peninsula.

Hunting has become a controversial sport. But I don’t think I’ve seen any hunting issue as controversial as this year’s wolf hunt.

Jill Fritz, the Michigan state director of the Humane Society of the United States, is the informal leader of the anti-hunting forces, but she isn‘t alone. Professor John Vucetich, for example, a forest and environmental expert at Michigan Technological University, says flatly, “There is no scientific evidence to suggest that wolves need to be hunted.” He added, “It’s not common sense to spend decades bringing the wolf back from the brink of extinction only to turn around and allow them to be killed for sport.”

Wolves were once almost extinct in Michigan, and it took years to get their numbers up to the 650 or so there are today. However, farmers in the Western Upper Peninsula argue there are now too many wolves, and that they are a threat to livestock.

This has been a long and emotional debate. Diligent work by reporters and a Department of Natural Resources investigation has shown that complaints about wolves are hugely exaggerated. Even State Senator Tom Casperson, one of the biggest supporters of hunting wolves, had to apologize for spreading false information about wolves menacing a day care center.

We’ve also learned that the vast majority of livestock killed in one large region of the UP were on the farm of one John Koski, who leaves dead cattle lying around, failed to install a fence the state gave him; and neglected guard donkeys he was given until they died. Basically, he allowed his farm to become a magnet for wolves. Nevertheless, the state, instead of prosecuting him, has paid him tens of thousands for his lost animals.

When he signed the bill allowing this year’s wolf hunt, Governor Snyder said it was based on “sound scientific and biological principles.“ In fact, there really no evidence of that, though it is true that this year’s hunt poses no threat to the long-term survival of wolves in the Upper Peninsula.

The fact is that there are people who want to kill wolves for the sheer fun of it, and regard shooting these animals with a high-powered rifle as sport. I don’t understand that myself. 

I’m not a vegetarian, and if I were hungry I can imagine shooting an animal I could eat. But you can’t eat wolves, and when I looked at pictures of the first triumphant hunter, posing with what looked like a large dead German Shepherd in the back of his pickup truck, I wanted to ask him, simply ... why? What’s cool about this?

By the way, it has always been legal to shoot any wolf threatening your livestock. And the next human attacked by a wolf in Michigan will be the first one ever attacked. Nevertheless, it seems we are bound to keep hunting wolves in this state; so far hunters have killed at least 11. I just think we need to be honest about what we are doing, and why. 

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.