Wolf hunt debate: Distorted facts, false claims?
MARQUETTE – State officials responded Friday to allegations that distorted facts and false claims were made in the effort to remove state and federal protections for gray wolves and in establishing Michigan’s first state-sanctioned wolf hunt, which is set to begin next Friday.
Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, wrote to Gov. Rick Snyder Tuesday asking that he cancel the hunt in the wake of a “damning expose” by Internet media “revealing distortions and falsehoods” in “arguments that played a decisive role in shaping the trajectory of the debate.”
“The rationale for the removal of wolves from the state’s list of protected species and the subsequent opening of a trophy hunting season on a small wolf population was predicated on a series of fraudulent claims, including claims that were included not just in the public debate, but also in actual resolutions approved by state lawmakers,” Fritz wrote.
Snyder’s Upper Peninsula representative David Nyberg said Friday Snyder supports the Michigan Natural Resources Commission’s decision to move forward “with a very limited and science-based wolf management harvest to aid the department in its charge of addressing wolf-human conflict issues in the U.P.”
Nyberg said the decision to establish this fall’s hunt was reviewed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and based on Michigan’s Wolf Management Plan.
That 2008 plan updated a plan from 1997 and was put together over several months with the help of the 20-member Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable, a diverse group of often opposing interests that developed a set of principles to help guide wolf management.
In 2011, state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and others offered a resolution asking Congress to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species List. That resolution and another introduced by Casperson in May 2012 seeking to establish wolves as a game species in Michigan included as part of the rationale the description of a wolf incident outside a day care center in Ironwood.
“Wolves appeared multiple times in the backyard of a day care center shortly after the children were allowed outside to play,” the resolutions stated. “Federal agents disposed of three wolves in that backyard because of the potential danger to the children.”
Fritz said the incident “never occurred” and “grossly distorted the details of a wolf sighting.”
Casperson told fellow lawmakers Thursday on the Senate floor there were errors in the report used to craft the resolutions. He did not disclose the source of the original information, but apologized and clarified the statement.
Casperson said there is a day care center in Ironwood that had wolves on its property and they had appeared there multiple times.
“In fact, the family dog even faced down one of the wolves in the backyard while five children were inside the home,” Casperson said. “And, in fact, that wolf, apparently completely socialized to humans, was not at all troubled by the woman who owned the daycare ‘screaming’ at the sight of this.”
However, the children were not in the backyard, nor were the wolves killed in the backyard, but were eventually killed in the vicinity, Casperson said.
“Words matter. Accuracy matters. Especially here, with a topic that is so emotional to so many and so important to so many, especially those whose way of life is being changed in my district,” Casperson said. “And the decision here, with whether or not we use sound science to manage the wolf, as with all decisions this body should make, should not be based on emotion, innuendo or agendas. But rather on facts.”
Fritz said DNR furbearer specialist Adam Bump “intentionally misled Public Radio listeners with comments about wolves showing up in people’s backyards.” Fritz said Bump has since renounced his “false claims,” but after the Legislature took action on the bills.
In a media teleconference Friday, featuring a panel of DNR experts, Bump did not speak to the question of the controversy surrounding the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected claims.
“Any errors that were made were not material to the actual hunt that was designed,” DNR spokesman Ed Golder said, responding to the question posed by The Mining Journal. “Those had to do with the recovery of wolves and where we were at in terms of delisting wolves.”
Fritz said the NRC solicited public feedback on the wolf hunt and then deleted or ignored more than 10,000 email comments from members of the public opposing the hunt.”
Golder agreed the DNR received “thousands of emails that were generated by opponents of the hunt,” most of which were form emails.
“They really weren’t a measure of public opinion, they were a measure of one organization’s ability to generate mass emails,” Golder said.
Golder said that organization was the Humane Society of the United States and Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.
“We took a number of factors into account including public opinion, public comments to the Natural Resources Commission and the advice of experts,” Golder said.
Fritz said the media reports also stated 60 percent of the wolf livestock depredation incidents in the Upper Peninsula occurred on a single farmer’s land in Ontonagon County.
“The purported incidents of wolf depredation on his property were a central argument of lawmakers and others who demanded the hunt,” Fritz said.
DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell said Friday the John Koski farm did have “more depredation than all the farms put together. The numbers are correct.”
However, Roell said what was incorrect was suggesting the Koski farm was overly influential in establishing any of the three wolf management units for the hunt where a total of 43 wolves are slated to be killed.
“We do not center the hunt or anything like that around that one farm,” Roell said. “There’s no one farm or one incident that drove any part in developing those units.”
Roell said the Koski farm is located on the edge of Unit B and the unit is not centered on that property.
“He’s just one of the 14 farms in Unit B that have had depredation,” Roell said.
A total of 1,200 licenses were sold for the hunt. No trapping will be allowed and the units will be closed Dec. 31 or once hunting quotas are reached.