Outdoors: Biologist says wolf hunt vote 'makes no sense'

Photo courtesy Jim Hammill Photo courtesy Jim Hammill

This week a vote before the House will decide whether wildlife in Michigan should be managed by voter opinion or the Natural Resources Commission.

A vote for the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act would allow the NRC to continue to manage wildlife, as it has for decades. It also would effectively terminate a petition with a lot of signatures that puts the question of whether we should have a wolf hunt up to voters.

Critics say this bill undermines democracy. If it passes, the petition will become null and the issue won’t go to a vote. If the question of wolf hunting does go to a vote, city dwellers will make decisions for a region of the state many have never seen. Both the petition and the bill are constitutional ways to achieve a law.

I turned to Michigan’s greatest wolf advocate, retired wildlife biologist Jim Hammill, to sort through some of this.

As a child, Hammill’s father told him that the wilderness wasn’t the same once the wolves left. A vision emerged, one in which Hammill and others could once again hear the call of the wild reverberate through the land.

Hammill became a wildlife biologist in pursuit of that dream. In the 1990s, he petitioned the Department of Natural Resources to come up with a wolf recovery plan and worked cautiously with Upper Peninsula residents to help them understand the value of wolves.

“In my wildest dreams we would have had maybe 50 of them,” Hammill said. “I never thought there would be so many. What a gift. Today there are over 600.”

Hammill swam against the tide of public opinion to protect his beloved wolves. He doesn’t think wolves or any other type of wildlife should be managed via petition.

“If it had been up to a public vote, we wouldn’t have wolves in the U.P. today,” Hammill said. “A vote is fine for a Grammy, or American Idol. It makes no sense to do it for wildlife. Would you go to your neighbors to poll which disease you had and how it should be treated?”

It is a salient point.

Could the voting public effectively determine which fish species should be harvested in the correct amount to manage a complex body of water optimally for all the lake’s inhabitants? Unlikely.

Opponents of wolf hunting say the NRC isn’t any more qualified to make these decisions than the public. After all, members are political appointees.

The NRC functions a bit like a jury. Experts present evidence from both sides. After deliberation, the NRC helps set policy. The public and scientists both have input. Often no one is happy. Nonetheless, under both republicans and democrats, it’s a system that has produced world-renowned fisheries and woods rife with wildlife.

Black bears number in the tens of thousands. Turkeys, once a distant memory, are at nearly 250,000. We are the No. 1 state for grouse. In 2011, Michigan was designated the No. 1 fly-fishing locale and, in 2013, the state was awarded the distinction of having the No. 1 bass lake in the world.

Hammill’s greatest fear is that we’re headed for a collision between wolves and humans. He thinks public opinion will turn against the wolves he loves if they aren’t managed.

“In 1949 or 1950 a little girl was taken off her back porch and killed by a bear in Sault Ste. Marie,” Hammill said. “Homeowners began shooting bears on sight. We finally got the situation on track, and believe it or not, it was hunters that led the way.

“Now, wolves are walking into people’s backyards in broad daylight while toddlers play. They’re eating pets. Wolves can and do climb fences, so normal boundaries don’t necessarily apply. Sooner or later, something is going to happen.”

He fears his life work would be lost.

“If we don’t manage them appropriately, the public will turn on them,” he said. “No wildlife manager, least of all me, would allow wolves to be hunted into extinction. A biologists’ goal is to ensure sustainability. It’s the foundation of everything we do. If you look at our record, the animals we manage are plentiful.

“If Michigan were a wilderness area like the Boundary Waters, this would not be a question at all. We would just leave the wolves be. But we need to manage them so that everyone has a peaceful co-existence — pet owners, parents, wolves, pets, farmers and livestock.

“The right answer focuses on what’s best for wolves and people equally, not what any one group of people wants. If we have a wolf population that’s sustainable and a range that’s fully occupied by wolves, we have met everyone’s values. The best way make sure we have sustainability for our wolf population is to apply the best science that we have. A public vote can’t accomplish that.”

Click HERE for original article from Freep.com

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