We reported last week that Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation to make gray wolves a game species (State Representative Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine) introduced HB 5834. Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) introduced a similar bill (SB 1350) in the state Senate). These bills would make it possible to have a hunting and trapping season for wolves.
SB 1350 cleared a Senate committee late last week. It now moves to the full Senate.
But a number of tribes in Michigan are opposed to a wolf hunt and that could hold the process up.
I talked with reporter Bob Allen from Interlochen Public Radio - he's been following this story as it develops. You can listen to our conversation above, or read the transcript below.
Allen: Many of the Indian tribes in Michigan are opposed to this legislation right now, and that’s primarily because they feel the wolf has a special status for them. It figures importantly in many of their creation stories. They consider the wolf to be a brother or part of their kin. Here’s what Kurt Perron, the president of the Bay Mills Indian Community, told me about that:
“As we see the wolf returning, or gaining strength, just like we, as Ojibwe Anishinaabe people have, we see that relationship. So that’s what concerns us with the hunt, it’s almost like you’re hunting our brothers.”
Perron also said that by hunting wolves, you really don’t know what’s going to happen in terms of how that affects the pack structure of wolves, since they are pack animals.
Senator Tom Casperson of the western Upper Peninsula is the primary sponsor of the wolf hunt bill, and he says that he has met a couple of times with the Indian tribes, and heard their concerns, and he recognizes and respects their relationship to the wolf. But he also says that that’s not a value that all of his constituents hold.
“I don’t know how you negotiate that, because that’s a personal belief they have. But at the end of the day, I do think many people don’t hold that same belief, so what do we do? Do we hold fast to it because the tribes say it’s sensitive to them, when many of my citizens don’t hold that same value?”
RW: So is there any chance people can compromise on this?
Allen: I think there’s some chance of compromise, but the Indian tribes are insisting they’re equal partners with the state in managing the state’s resources under a court decree that happened back in 2007 that settled some of the inland hunting and fishing rights.
Jimmie Mitchell, who’s the head of natural resources for the Little River Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians in Manistee, has been meeting with Senator Casperson and some other state officials to talk about this. He thinks that if the state can make the case that a wolf hunt is necessary, that the tribes, if it’s based on sound science, will go along with that or at least part of it. He thinks if it’s necessary, the tribes could go back to federal court, and open up that consent decree again, and make the state abide by the terms of that agreement.
“We’re really hoping not to get there. We want to sit down as co-managers and collaborate in a fashion that we can all share that information. I think whatever wolf management that needs to occur can.”
One possibility that Senator Casperson sees for some compromise on this, is that he’s been talking about limiting a wolf hunt to just a few counties in the western Upper Peninsula, where the problems have been most severe with wolves attacking livestock and pets, and he thinks that would be a way to sort of defuse some of this conflict. But it’s going to be up to the Natural Resources Commission to make that decision. This bill that he’s sponsoring would only reclassify the wolf as a game animal, and any terms of a hunt or whether there would even be a hunt on wolves, would be totally up to the Natural Resources Commission.
This won't go anywhere for a few weeks, at least, because the Senate is in recess until the end of the month.