Cody Norton is the large carnivore specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Norton lives with his wife and children in the Upper Peninsula and is an avid deer, bear, furbearer, and small game hunter, houndsman, and trapper.
Q: Why do we need a wolf management plan? What does this plan mean to you as a day-to-day species specialist?
A: Species management plans provide strategic guidance for managing a given species in Michigan. We have species management plans in place for deer, elk, and bear, as well as wolves. All of these plans contain high-level direction for how we approach management, with management including everything from public outreach and engagement to research and monitoring, enforcement of regulations to disease concerns, and conflict management to public harvest. Having our strategic guidance written down in a public-facing document that incorporates public input allows us to be more transparent and for the public to understand how we plan to approach management in the future. It also provides a framework that we can work off to develop operational guidelines and protocols related to the various management aspects in a plan. All of the work I do daily and other staff related to wolves or bears can be linked to the individual species management plans, whether surveying wolves to estimate abundance, recommending quota and regulation changes for bears, or responding to media inquiries like this.
Q: Why was the choice to use the wording “socially responsible” when legal methods and manners of take are clearly defined?
A: Previous versions of the wolf management plan and bear plan have included a goal of “conducting science-based and socially acceptable management.” During the latest update of the wolf plan, we replaced the term “socially acceptable” with “socially responsible.” We made this change because we wanted to clarify that there are aspects of wolf management that, no matter what approach or method is applied, will not be acceptable to all stakeholders, and a majority rule should not decide wolf management. Instead, managers should make recommendations considering stakeholder attitudes, values, and input. To avoid misinterpretation, we also defined “social responsibility” in the plan as “the DNR using the best available biological and social science to sustainably manage wildlife populations as dictated by the Public Trust Doctrine and state law (Public Act 377 of 1996 [Proposal G]) for the interests of current and future generations of Michigan citizens.”
This goal within the plan is not specific to public harvest but all aspects of wolf management. In addition, legal methods and manners of take are not applied universally to all game species. For example, you can hunt and trap raccoons but can only hunt snowshoe hare and only trap muskrats. You can take deer with a rifle, but not turkey. You can use non-lethal cable restraints to harvest fox, but not bobcat. Many of these differences in how methods and manners of take are applied are greatly influenced by stakeholder input; and are periodically re-evaluated and sometimes significantly changed during the regulatory process.
Q: Why did the department need to use a term like recreational hunting in section 6.12.2 rather than a single “management and utilitarian hunt”?
A: The recommendations of the 2006 Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable served as the foundation for the 2008 Wolf Management Plan and continue to guide subsequent wolf plan updates. This roundtable included representatives of 20 agencies and organizations representing the diversity of stakeholder interests regarding wolves in Michigan. Roundtable members came to a consensus on the use of public wolf harvest to manage wolf-related conflicts and every other issue, but they did not on a public wolf harvest for reasons other than managing wolf-related conflicts. The roundtable saw a distinction between the two forms of public harvest, and we have carried that forward into the updated plan.
The term “recreational harvest” refers to “a public wolf harvest for reasons other than managing wolf-related conflicts.” We felt “recreational” best described this type of harvest, as this type of harvest would not be established to meet specific management needs. We added language in the updated plan to explain why people harvest wildlife species recreationally, including nature appreciation, utilitarian needs, spending time with friends and family, harvesting a unique animal, and improving or testing skills and abilities. We also provided examples of recreational harvests that we currently have in Michigan, such as ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare, river otter, and red fox, where these species are sustainably harvested for reasons other than conflict management.
Q: Why was the term “utilitarian” removed from the plan in section 6.12?
A: In the updated plan, we condensed “recreational and utilitarian harvest” into “recreational harvest” when describing “a public wolf harvest for reasons other than managing wolf-related conflicts.” We felt “recreational” best encompassed the reasons people may choose to harvest wolves outside of a specific management need and mentioned utilitarian needs as one of those reasons. Please see the response to the question above for some other reasons we provided and examples of recreational harvests we currently have in Michigan.
Q: Does the department plan to develop a new methodology and use a new number that more accurately reflects the wolf population?
A: We have used the same general survey methodology for estimating wolf abundance since wolves began recolonizing the Upper Peninsula in the late 1980s. This winter wolf track survey was developed to produce a conservative population estimate that could be used to determine if federal and state recovery goals were met. We are currently well-above recovery goals, it has become more labor and time intensive to run the survey as wolf and pack numbers increased during the 1990s through the early 2000s, and new survey techniques have become available. As a result, we are currently working with university partners to evaluate two alternative techniques for estimating wolf abundance. We will be running our current survey and the two alternative surveys during overlapping years to determine the most appropriate survey method to use in the future.
Q: Did the department consider a trigger mechanism when poaching penalties would be increased to more closely resemble other big game species at a time when wolf management returns to the state?
A: The updated wolf management plan, and previous versions, includes an action item to “recommend modification of law, at the State level, to make penalties for illegally killing a wolf commensurate with other highly valued species with similar legal status (endangered, threatened, game, or protected animals).” However, the department cannot directly enact this change because it would require legislative action. Also, wolves have returned to state management several times, only to be held back under federal protections. Our inability to directly enact this change and the difficulty in defining what a “trigger” would be are prohibitive to this sort of change.
Q: Does the department intend to set up some form of conflict reporting tool on the app or a call-in system?
A: The department currently has three ways we collect information on wolves from the public, depending on whether it is conflict-related and the immediacy of the situation. If a livestock producer or dog owner suspects that their livestock or dog has been injured or killed by a wolf, they are directed to call the Report-All-Poaching Hotline (800-292-7800). This hotline is staffed 24/7 and the operator will immediately attempt to contact local staff until they contact someone who can respond to the incident. These situations require a fast response because evidence can degrade quickly, and timing requirements are associated with the reimbursement of livestock producers.
For any other type of wolf-related conflicts, public members are directed to contact their local wildlife staff. Here’s a link to our website to easily look up your local wildlife biologist (https://www.michigan.gov/dnr/about/contact/wildlife/local-biologist-contact-info). Local wildlife staff will fill out a Wolf Activity Report on their behalf to document the conflict and may offer advice, visit the site, or take other action depending on the situation. This is the same process we use for bear conflicts across the state; we get hundreds of reports yearly. The department does not feel that attempting to replace this system with an application or automated call-in system would improve this process and has concerns that it would cause disruptions in the communication between local wildlife staff and members of the public and delay any necessary actions by wildlife staff.
To report a sighting of a wolf not associated with any conflict, public members are directed to report these on our website by going to www.michigan.gov/wolves and clicking on “Report a wolf observation.” These reports may be particularly helpful for documenting wolf presence in the Lower Peninsula, but we also get reports from the UP. This is the exact same process we use for reporting cougar sightings and has been an effective tool for documenting their presence.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add on wolf management or the wolf plan in Michigan?
A: The department supports the federal delisting of wolves in Michigan, as they have met state and federal recovery criteria and have a robust, viable population. We will continue to use our updated wolf management plan to guide wolf management in the state. I appreciate MUCC engaging with the department on managing wolves and reaching out to discuss these important topics!