Public opinion of wolves and any type of harvest season has been a hallmark of the Wolf Management Plan since it’s inception in 2008. Perception shapes that opinion.
But, as ABC 10’s Rick Tarsitano reports, some of the perceived truths stem from reports, which are not entirely accurate.
Every time a report of a depredation is made, DNR promptly investigates the scene.
“If it’s a complaint about wolves coming into your yard or acting bold, we send a wildlife staff there or USDA Wildlife Services staff to the site, in most cases,” noted Brian Roell, Michigan DNR Wolf Coordinator. “If we’re getting reports of ‘a wolf crossed the road,’ we’re not sending staff out to look at those. But, if we have a legitimate human safety concern, we’re getting staff there to look for ‘Are there wolf tracks there? Are there coyote tracks there? Why did the wolves come to the whatever location it may be? Is someone feeding deer?'”
Only after going through that checklist can the depredation be verified. But, unverified reports make it out into the public and carry the same weight.
In 2011, Senator Tom Casperson proposed Senate Resolution 39, urging Congress to remove wolves from the endangered species list. One piece of evidence that was cited on the senate floor was a 2010 story in which an ironwood woman saw wolves in the backyard of her day care center shortly after children had finished playing outside.
“However the children were not in the backyard as the resolution implied, nor were the wolves killed in the backyard of the daycare. Rather, three wolves were, indeed, eventually killed in the vicinity. So, the resolution was inaccurate in two ways, and for that I sincerely apologize,” said State Senator Tom Casperson in a speech on the Senate floor in Lansing.
The story helped gain enough support to pass the resolution, eventually delisting Michigan wolves in January of 2012. In reality, there was a single wolf, who ran away upon hearing the woman’s screams.
DNR Furbearer Specialist Adam Bump also added to the public misconception when telling another Ironwood tale on Michigan Radio.
“So you have wolves showing up in backyards, wolves showing up on porches, wolves staring at people through their sliding glass doors while they’re pounding on it, exhibiting no fear.”
Nancy Warren submitted a FOIA request asking for the incident report in question, only to receive a message back saying it did not exist.
Bump has since recanted his statement saying it was a misquote.
Each alleged story had the potential to misguide public opinion.
“Many people who are just the average person on the street, who really don’t know a whole lot about wolves just things they may have read or seen on TV, expect that when there going to see a wolf it’s going to act like a strange dog,” remarked Nancy Warren, a member of the National WolfWatcher Coalition. “A strange dog will approach someone barking with their hair all up and teeth barred. That is not typical wolf behavior. Wolves do not respond to humans that way.”
Human safety is regarded as paramount on both ends of the spectrum, but it doesn’t seem to actually be a problem.
When asked the question,”Has there been any cases where they’ve attacked humans or anybody’s been injured?” Roell responded, “In Michigan, no. There has been isolated cases of wolves attacking human beings. Most of the time you’re looking at sick animals or animals that are habituated to humans. They’re being fed by humans. In fact, this year in Minnesota a camper was attacked by a wolf. Now, in the end, it turned out that wolf had something wrong with it’s jaw; probably wasn’t able to eat normally, and from what I’ve heard was being fed by campers. You get those situations and they’re very isolated. In Alaska, there’s been people killed by wolves. In Canada, there’s been some attacks. But, it’s a very remote chance that someone’s really going to get attacked by a wolf.”
Yet, it’s one of the most important reasons cited for the passing of Public Act 520 and Public 21, two bills that have been met with stark opposition from thousands of Michigan voters.
We’ll break down the numbers and find out what happened to 2000 public comments in our final installment.