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Indian Nations and Wolf Hunting, USA


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 [1]. 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 [2].

Many groups oppose the wolf hunt including the Humane Society, other animal rights groups, and Michigan’s American Indian Tribes [3].  Specifically noted in the opposition was the violation of a 2007 agreement between Indian tribes and the state of Michigan [4].

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 [5].

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 [6].

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 [7].

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 [8].

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 [9]. 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 [10].   

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 [9].

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 [7].   

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Indian Nations and Wolf Hunting, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Michigan
Location of conflict:Upper Peninsula, Michigan
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Biodiversity conservation conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Other
Specific commodities:Live Animals

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has tried four times in the last 15 years to delist Great Lakes gray wolves from the Endangered Species list. The courts have reversed each attempt.

There are about 600 wolves populating Michigan's Upper Peninsula, while there are more than 1,000 in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Michigan held its controversial first, firearm-only wolf hunt over a 46 day period in November and December 2013, with hunters killing 23 wolves in designated areas of the U.P.

Project area:4,144
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:02/01/2012
Company names or state enterprises:Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) from United States of America - Supports the wolf hunt
Relevant government actors:Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Natural Resources Commission
State of Michigan
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Little River Band of Ottawa Indians
National Wolfcatcher Coalition
Chippewa Ottawa Resource Authority (
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) (
The United Tribes of Michigan (
Humane Society (

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Recreational users
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents
Potential: Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:A Michigan senator suggested limiting a wolf hunt to just a few counties in the western Upper Peninsula where the problems have been most severe.
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
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:This issue is still in the courts being appealed by both sides. While the wolf remains on the federally endangered species list, there is very little the state can do to open up hunting of wolves. In the meantime, indian tribes and environmental groups are fighting to make sure there cannot be a wolf hunt, and that wolves will remain protected even if they are taken off the list.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Flesher, John. "Michigan closer to authorizing wolf hunts." The Oakland Press. (November 29, 2012).

[4] Michigan Department of Natural Resources. "2007 Inland Consent Decree.",4570,7-350-79136_79236_84834_84836---,00.html

[6] "Michigan Indian Tribal Leaders speak out against Michigan's approval of a wolf hunt." White Wolf Pack. May 2013.

[10]. Wagner, S. C. (2010) Keystone Species. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):51

[3] Pluta, Rick. "Coalition seeks to reverse Michigan's wolf hunt law." Michigan Radio. (January 22, 2013).

[9] Williams, Rebecca. "Tribes opposed to possibility of Michigan wolf hunting season." Michigan Radio. (November 13, 2012).

[7] Ellison, Garret. "Michigan wolf hunting law ruled unconstitutional by appeals court." MLive. (November 23, 2016).

[8] Pacelle, Wayne. "Indian Tribes, Others Stand up for Wolves." The Humane Society of the United States. (February 27, 2015).

Lute et al. "Toward improving the effectiveness of wolf management approaches in Michigan: insights from a 2010 statewide survey." February 2012

[5] Pluta, Rick. "American Indian Tribes To Challenge Michigan Wolf Hunt." Public Radio from Michigan State University. (June 3, 2013)

[1] U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Final Environmental Assessment for the Management of Wolf Conflicts and Depredating Wolves in Michigan." May 2006

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Tribes and the Michigan Wolf Hunt (May 2013)

Appeals court upholds endangered species protection for Great Lakes gray wolves (August 2017)

Meta information

Contributor:Bernadette Grafton and Paul Mohai, [email protected] and [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update07/05/2018



Wolf hunt

Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. The wolf was the second recorded kill in the Michigan's first wolf hunt.