Protecting Michigan’s Wolves
A Veterinary Perspective

by Pamela Graves, DVM

July 17, 2013

wolf in snow
Wolves in Michigan may be at risk.

As a life-long Michigander, I have a special interest in wildlife and their benefits to society, local economics and the ecosystem. As a veterinary professional, I also have an interest in protecting the health and welfare of all animal species, including wolves. Wolves have been protected in Michigan for almost 50 years, after being hunted to the brink of extinction. Even now, more than 40 years later, there are fewer than 700 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. In fact, a recent census shows that the number has dropped from 687 to 658, which, according to wolf scientists, indicates that their population may be stabilizing.

It doesn’t make sense to bring the wolf back from the brink of extinction, spending millions of dollars for its recovery, to then turn around and hunt them for no good purpose. Furthermore, wolf experts such as Drs. Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich at Michigan Technological University in the Upper Peninsula, oppose the hunting and trapping of wolves because, among other reasons, the population is so fragile.

If a hunting season for wolves resumes in Michigan, it would be strictly for trophy purposes. Because of this, the amount of poaching may increase as people keep their eyes open for the biggest wolf trophy. Wolf hunting usually employs such methods as steel-jawed leghold traps, in which the animals can suffer for hours or even days, and shooting wolves over piles of bait. While Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission recently decided to omit trapping from the inaugural season, it has indicated that it intends to incorporate trapping back in to future seasons.

Michigan voters value the ability to protect wildlife from unsporting and inhumane practices. In 2006, they overwhelmingly rejected a law to allow sport hunting of mourning doves. The ballot measure stopping the hunt was one of the most popular referendum efforts in Michigan history, with voters in all 83 counties casting more votes against shooting doves than they did for any candidate that election.

Support for Wolf Protection

There is strong support for protecting wolves in Michigan – and for allowing Michigan citizens to decide whether they should be hunted or not. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected – a coalition of Michigan citizens, conservationists, Native American tribes, scientists, and animal welfare interests – turned in more than 255,000 signatures from Michigan voters earlier this year to stop the wolf hunt and put the issue on the 2014 ballot. In addition, more than 115 Michigan veterinarians joined with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association in endorsing this effort.

However, despite this overwhelming grassroots support to protect wolves, the Michigan Legislature intervened and undermined this ballot referendum and the will of the people by passing legislation that will allow for trophy hunting of wolves to resume. More specifically, PA 21, which was signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder in May, grants the Natural Resources Commission authority to designate game species. The NRC is a governor-appointed group including an iron worker, a lawyer, a chemical engineer, a professional surveyor, a tour boat operator, and the CEO of a non-profit  who holds a master’s degree in natural sciences management and is the only appointee who holds an advanced degree in a relevant discipline. While all of these are worthy careers, is it really best to let a bureaucratic body make the critically important decision to add a new species of animal to the game list? PA 21 takes away the rights of Michigan voters by allowing a regulatory body to make decisions that cannot be challenged by referendum.

Despite claims by some supporters of PA 21 that “natural resource specialists” should be allowed to make decisions on the health of Michigan’s wolf populations, granting the NRC the ability to list animals as game species will not contribute to a more thorough scientific analysis of wildlife management. In fact, if wolf hunting in Michigan proceeds as it has in other Great Lakes and western states, we may soon see wolves back on the endangered species list. It is for this reason that I joined with my veterinary colleagues in endorsing the first ballot referendum to stop the trophy hunting of wolves and am now supporting a second referendum to restore the right of Michigan voters to weigh in on critical wildlife issues.

Pamela Graves, DVM
Second Chance Ranch and Rescue

Dr. Pamela Graves obtained her undergraduate degree in Fisheries and Wildlife from Michigan State University in 1996. She also obtained her DVM from MSU in 2000. Dr. Graves currently works at a mixed animal practice in Petoskey, Michigan. She also teaches Anatomy and Physiology at North Central Michigan College and is the executive director of Second Chance Ranch and Rescue, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of large animals in Northern Michigan. Dr. Graves is a member of the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Steering Committee.