Gray wolves are currently listed as an endangered species under Section 4 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Once wolves are removed from the Federal list of threatened and endangered species, states and tribes would have full management authority for wolves. There’s a conflict, however, between continued protection of wolves and the institution of a wolf management plan.
The wolf population in Michigan, while culturally significant for the indian nations, has threatened human health and safety as well as livestock and game farm animals and pets . Environmental groups and indian tribes have argued that more time is needed to make sure the wolf population is secure before hunting is permitted. Additionally, the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians have noted that wolves are part of the creation story and are a cultural indicator inherent in native teachings. The regional director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, and an Upper Peninsula resident, argued that there isn’t enough scientific evidence to justify a hunt, especially since ranchers already have authority to shoot wolves caught in the act of attacking livestock and the Department of Natural Resources can remove those that habitually get too close to people .
Many groups oppose the wolf hunt including the Humane Society, other animal rights groups, and Michigan’s American Indian Tribes . Specifically noted in the opposition was the violation of a 2007 agreement between Indian tribes and the state of Michigan .
The tribes of the Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority say the state did not consult with them in a meaningful way before establishing a gray wolf hunting season in 2013, something required by the 2007 consent decree .
Multiple petitions, bills, laws, and appeals have been made since 2012. In 2013, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved a limited public wolf harvest in three distinct regions of Michigan's Upper Peninsula despite over 250,000 signatures by Michigan residents on a petition to not approve the wolf hunts that were ultimately ignored by Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder. This came after multiple attempts by Tribal representatives to convey their concerns with the Governor through an established State -Tribal Accord which was set up to facilitate better government to government relations. Michigan’s Tribes feel their input is not sought nor included and as a result, decisions that affect their shared resources are made unilaterally .
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has tried multiple times to delist the Great Lakes gray wolves and the courts have reversed each attempt. Meanwhile, the state has made many attempts to allow wolf hunting if gray wolves are ever dropped from the endangered species list.
The group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) challenged the state’s authority on this matter in court citing a violation of the “title-object clause” of the Michigan constitution. The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, stating that a 2014 law - the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act (also known as Public Act 281 of 2014)- is unconstitutional because within that law were multiple “objects” including a cleverly hidden ability to hunt wolves .
Citizens groups and tribes continue to fight against legislation that would allow a wolf hunting season in Michigan, citing both scientific and cultural reasons for their position. The United Tribes of Michigan has declared that they recognize the wolf’s significance to their community and that it has an important place in their culture .
The wolf is an important part of many of their creation stories and is considered to be a brother to the tribes, as specifically noted by the Ojibwe Anishinaabe people . Wolves are considered a keystone species in their natural habitat, includng most of northern Michigan, which means that their existence and well-being affects the health and well-being of many other species of plants and animals in their ecosystem .
Alternative solutions have been proposed by both sides of the debate. One Michigan Senator, who supports wolf hunting and has met with the tribes a couple of times, has suggested limiting a wolf hunt to just a few counties in the western Upper Peninsula where the problems have been most severe. However, this decision must be made by the Natural Resources Commission which has the authority to allow a hunt .
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has suggested that wolves be downlisted instead of delisted from the U.S. Endangered Species List.
This would allow for lethal control of problem wolves, but not game season hunting .