Wolf Attack in Minnesota: Could Michigan Be Next?

Sixteen-year old Noah Graham was attacked by a wolf at a Minnesota campground in late August while preparing to sleep during a church group campout. The 75-pound gray wolf snuck up silently behind him and clamped its jaws down on his head. After he pried its jaws open and was luckily able to free himself, it stood there growling at him. Campers have reported that the wolf had been seen earlier around the campground.
But, wait: aren’t all wolves “afraid of people and do all they can to avoid them?” That’s what the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected group and their Humane Society of the United States-led staff have told their signature collectors to say to people when asking them to sign a petition to repeal Public Act 21 of 2013. Every chance they get, they say that wolves are no danger to humans and repeat the line that “there have never been any documented wolf attacks on humans in the lower 48 states.” Well, they can no longer truthfully claim that (but how much do you want to bet they will, anyway?).
Where wolves are more prevalent – in Alaska and Canada – there have been wolf attacks, though, including two fatalities in the last decade. Additionally, there have been numerous reports of fearless behavior by wolves. And now there has been a wolf attack in a campground in the Great Lakes region.
We’d like to avoid that kind of incident here in Michigan. That’s why one of the two goals the DNR has for a public wolf hunt is to make wolves more wary of humans. That will take two things: time and public hunting pressure. And you can’t have public hunting pressure without public hunting.
The wolf that was seen in a campground and later attacked the teenager in the campground, surrounded by other sleeping humans, was obviously unafraid of humans. The Minnesota DNR has not determined yet whether or not it had rabies, but did say it had a deformed jaw and surmised that may have forced it to rely more on campground scraps than wild game. So what we have is a wolf hanging around a place where humans gather, relying on a food source near that place, and exhibiting fearless behavior of the humans in that place. Sound familiar? It should: in Ironwood, there have been numerous complaints of wolves wandering through town, unafraid of humans.
According to the DNR’s memo outlining their wolf hunting recommendations to the Natural Resources Commission, “Since 2010, we have recorded 91 complaints of nuisance wolf behavior including wolves traveling within the city limits, wolves chasing dogs in residential areas, and wolves traveling in close proximity to children waiting for school buses or at day care facilities.”
While most wolves may be afraid of humans, obviously not all of them are. Wolf attacks on humans are extremely rare, but they can happen. It’s not their fault: it’s how they survive. But we need to minimize the risk they pose to humans, pets and livestock if we want their population to thrive and remain sustainable in our state. And the hunting zones will only target those wolf packs that have shown they are unafraid of humans or have attacked dogs or livestock. Also in their memo, the DNR said, “We designed the harvest recommendations to minimize the impact to the Upper Peninsula wolf population and to limit the take of wolves to those packs that have a history of conflicts.”
Wolves are apex predators and intelligent wildlife. So are we. Depending on the outcome of the 2014 election and the anti-hunters’ referendums, Upper Peninsula wolves will learn one of two things from us: They’ll either learn that humans are a danger to them, or they'll learn that humans pose no threat to them. If public hunting pressure teaches them that humans are a danger, they’ll be more likely to stay away from humans, pets and livestock. If they continue to learn that humans pose no threat to them, then they'll continue to exhibit fearless behavior, making it more likely that what happened just last month in Minnesota could happen in Michigan. And the next victim may not be so lucky.

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