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Wolf management badly needed in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Guest column

First let me introduce myself. I am Gary Gorniak, president of the Straits Area Sportsmen’s Club, vice president of The Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance and vice chairman of the East U.P. Department of Natural Resources Citizens Advisory Council.

I want start off by saying I am not anti-wolf — the gray wolf has a place in wildlife. But like all wildlife, the gray wolf has to be managed. You can’t pick and choose to manage one without affecting the other, especially as skilled a predator as the wolf.

As you will soon see, our 2020 deer season in the U.P. was a disaster and will probably go down as one of the worst in history. Our deer herd in the U.P. is in serious decline. Predators — wolves in particular — have decimated our deer herd. Sure, we know some areas are worse than others but overall they are taking a severe toll on our deer. I also know that there are other issues affecting our deer herd, such as loss of habitat and winter kill.

We as U.P. sportsmen have seen this coming now for some time and have been working to change the 2015 Michigan Wolf Management Plan to expand the gray wolf harvest area to the entire Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Also to include hunting and trapping as a legal methods of take for the wolf harvest in Michigan and a goal of maintaining a healthy population of 300 to 400 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. Federal delisting criteria required a combined Michigan/Wisconsin population of 100 wolves for five consecutive years for delisting to occur. The Michigan Wolf Recovery and Management Plan in 1997 defined a viable population as 200 wolves for five consecutive years to allow removal from the state endangered species list. In Michigan, we have exceeded both requirements for over 23 years.

Resolutions have already been passed by Michigan United Conservation Clubs by a 78.6% margin. UPSA passed it unanimously and also EUPDNRCAC passed it unanimously.

We as sportsmen need to stand together on this issue. The anti-hunt groups have an endless supply of money and will be working to stop any management of gray wolves in the U.P.

The SASC has been very active in talking to sportsmen across the U.P. We implement Facebook surveys; we feel that it is very important to find out how sportsmen feel about issues that affect them. We target U.P. sites, so I would say that most of the people taking the survey are either U.P. residents or people who have an interest in the U.P. outdoor sports, such as hunting and fishing. These surveys are voluntary opinion surveys and have no science behind them. But in saying that, when you have hundreds or even thousands of sportsmen telling you the same thing, then I think that might matter.

Living with wolves is starting to be a bit concerning as the wolf population grows. On Brevort Lake in the past few years we have had wolves chasing deer right through our back yards in the middle of the day. We have had many wolf sightings in the city limits of St. Ignace — recently we had a young lady jogging through the state park in town come across a wolf. The wolf was not aggressive in any way but needless to say the young girl was scared and climbed a tree to be safe. These occurrences are happening with more frequently as the wolf population grows. We have already had one incident in 2019 where a wolf was shot in self-defense.

I am not talking about 695 wolves — that is the rock-bottom low number the Michigan DNR guarantees to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that are in Michigan. The real AVERAGE number is north of 1,200, probably twice the official count. As the gray wolf population grows, they will become their own worst enemy. Pack sizes will break up into smaller packs, which we are seeing to some effect happening now, and infighting amongst the wolves will increase leading to higher wolf mortality and an unpredictability to what will happen next.

Wolves in particular don’t like people and usually stay away from populated areas. But as the wolf population increases and food sources start to lessen, these wolves expand their territory and the reason for this is there are just too many of them for the present U.P. landscape.

By not managing wolves correctly, we are doing disservice to the U.P. communities, a disservice to other wildlife, a disservice to sportsmen and a disservice to the wolf itself.

We are working with the Michigan Natural Resource Commission and the Michigan DNR to make gray wolf management a reality. We will need some of your support — opponents of a hunt keep telling us the gray wolf is endangered but there are over 70,000 gray wolves in Canada and Alaska. That is a far cry from being endangered.

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