Northern Michigan Story: Canvassing for Wolves in the Wake of Money

Opinion

Northern Michigan Outdoors: The first man to blow me off has a dog. I've stopped to pet her—a big, long-haired, orangish female—and in the process asked if this man would be interested in signing a petition to stop Northern Michigan's wolves from being hunted for sport.

I can see that this man loves the dog. It's cold outside—15 degrees or so—and he has her wrapped in a coat, which is also decorated with reflective material. The dog stands beside him and wags while I run my fingers through the thick hair under her ears, thinking to myself, Yes, it's the ones who love some wildness that are going to get these signatures. The ones who know something about creatures.

“I don't sign petitions,” the man says, and walks away.

I turn too, feeling slightly embarrassed, though I'm not certain if it's embarrassment for myself, the man, or the dog for having this man holding the other end of the leash she lives on. 

This happens on my first day—ever—out canvassing. That I'm doing it at all surprises me. It's not in my nature to ask people I don't know for things that they may or may not want to give. It's not in my nature to ask people I know for things I'm certain they would be happy to give.  But this is for Northern Michigan's wolves, who, thanks to a lame duck bill Governor Snyder signed into legislature in December of last year, might possibly be approved for hunting as trophies. Nearly 40 years on the federal Endangered Species List, and the moment they're not in imminent danger of extinction in Michigan, our legislators (and their lobbyists) have put targets on their backs once again. My goal—and the goal of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, the organization I'm volunteering with— is to gather 225,000 signatures by the end of March in order to place a referendum on Michigan's statewide ballot in 2014, so that Michigan's residents can decide for themselves whether or not to enact this law. 

The truth is, though, it's not just the asking that feels tricky. If I can catch someone's eye, and get out that I'm not asking for money, just a signature, then most everyone is willing, even eager, to sign. It's been on NPR and the local news stations, and people are upset. 

“People don't eat wolves, right?” many ask. No, people do not eat wolves. 

“And if what I've heard is true, this wouldn't have any impact on laws that still allow farmers to protect their livestock from wolves, right?” That's right, farmers always have, and will continue to have, the right to protect their livestock from wolves. This law is entirely separate from that. It designates the grey wolf as a game species, allowing hunters to hunt wolves for trophies if the Natural Resources Commission decides to allow that. I leave out the part about the cruel hunting techniques this could possibly include, depending on the way the regulations would be written: leg-hold traps, shooting wolves over piles of bait, using packs of dogs to track and kill, the grotesque images that come up when you google wolf hunt. If the person appears patient, interested, I offer a little more information. Not to mention that there are federal and state organizations in place specifically to compensate farmers for any lost livestock. Which is rarely necessary, anyway, since only 8% of ranches have experienced depredation.   

“What's the other side, then? Why?”

Here I pause, because it's a legitimate question, and one that should have a legitimate answer. Every lead, however, every argument in defense of a hunting season on wolves in Michigan, leads exactly nowhere. Some do not acknowledge that there is already an effective wolf management policy in place for farmers, and so the issue has become tangled in misinformation. Some like to claim the wolf population in Isle Royale is wiping out the moose population, despite five decades of scientific research, which concludes that “wolf and moose abundances are neither positively nor negatively related.”  Others want to hunt wolves because they kill deer, but they fail to look at the numbers: Northern Michigan's Upper Peninsula is home to around a quarter million deer. Wolves kill approximately 23,000 deer each year, while malnutrition kills more than twice that number in an average winter. Hunters, as well, kill twice as many deer as wolves in a typical hunting season. Not to mention that automobiles alone kill about 10,000 deer each year.

And still, there are those who simply take their cues from fairytales and call them facts, no mention of the fact that there has never, not once, been a documented wolf attack on a human in Michigan. What nobody says, at least not straight-out, is tax revenue. So then, how has this law come to pass? Because finally, the human heart is full of complexities, contradictions, irrational fears, desires that are sometimes without logic. And they're powerful desires, and sometimes they make people do powerfully wrong things; for power, for sport, for money, to feel like a man in a world with Justin Biebers and Calvin Klein underwear models wiping out the Indiana Jones' and Steve McQueens. Like, for example, taking a creature from the wild to stuff and put in a showroom. What will they say? I killed that, and they'll tell the story of the trek through the woods, following tracks, waiting in the brush with their faces painted green and muddy while the sun went down and the sounds of daylight dwindled into wilder cries. I got that boy just as he turned his head and spotted me. He knew I had him, too. Put a bullet slap in his heart. Isn't he a beauty? But instead I find myself biting my lip, saying I wish, I wish I understood that myself.  “Men,” one woman says, shaking her head. I nod, because this isn't the time to disagree, but I can't help picturing Sarah Palin flying over Alaska in her helicopter, eye on the scope, high-powered rifle aimed at that blur of grey in the snow. This isn't about gender, not really, not entirely. This is about that beating thing in human beings that wants to feel big. Or at least, it's not about farmers losing their rights. And it's not about moose or deer. And it's not about wolves threatening civilized society. And it sure as hell isn't about controlling the wolf population.

No, it's not just the asking, the approaching strangers, that can feel difficult at times. What's tricky is the desperation I feel as I count the people walking down the opposite side of the street, or driving by in cars, or the numbers I imagine to be inside of the large buildings in Downtown Ann Arbor, and knowing how many times I've breezed past people with clipboards and signs on sticks and tags around their necks. 

I ask another girl who is trying very hard not to look at me, speed walking even, the sort who's eye I can't quite catch. She responds with a theatrical, “Oh man, I'm super late for a class,” and keeps going. Another woman, with a puffy hat and lipstick the color of blood oranges, just responds, “No,” before I've even told her what the petition is for. And it makes me mad. Furious, even, because I don't know what else to do, and because I've also been known to cross the street to avoid canvassers, or take imaginary phone calls to dodge the kids with the clipboards and their questions that want something from me, or shaken my head 'no' without hearing someone out.

There's too much out there, and still, it's not enough. Every day on the street corner of Ann Arbor's State and South U there are groups from Greenpeace or Mott's or various nonprofits working to save this or save that or build this or don't build that or stop the prosecution on this party or prosecute that corporation. Every day I receive any number of emails from any number of organizations asking me to sign a petition or write a letter or make a donation, to keep the captured baby elephants from being sent to a Chinese zoo or save an innocent man from the death penalty or to end gender-based violence. And when you sign one, ten others pop up, just a quick note, just a quick typing of your name to help end hunger in Nigeria or child labor in China or horse slaughter here in the USA or the U.S. Navy's plans to kill whales and dolphins with their sonar exercises. Everybody is screaming help, and everybody who's not is doing a little harm in some pocket of the world. And it's too easy to hit the “No, Thanks” button and go scramble some eggs. 

People travel in masses, waves, like birds. Sometimes I feel like the point they're shifting around. Either I'm alone on the side of the road, or they flock to me. If I've managed to gather a group, more come. If someone skims the edge of my vision, sweeps past me without a glance, and others see, they do the same. It's when I'm standing on the inside looking out at the ones I can't reach—women pushing strollers at speeds that seem superhuman, men jingling the keys in their pockets and shifting their eyes from the street to whatever's ahead—that I've begun to think about my brain, what it's worth, and how I came to be standing on this or that street corner, asking for two minutes and a signature. After all, I have a Bachelor's. I have a Master's in poetry. I teach undergraduates at the University of Michigan. I'm a writer. I've calculated, during those periods of time when nobody's interested, that my brain is worth approximately 300K. Which is worth approximately… nothing. Or at least not when it comes to saving wolves. The one thing I can do to protect these creatures at this moment in time is something anybody with a birthday before 1995 can do, and still, to some, two minutes and a signature seems quite a bit to spare.  And this is the realization that stuns, that stings a little.

February in Michigan is cold. It's windy. It's full of snow and ice and grey and people who either want to be on the slopes or want to be in Hawaii. What's certain is that most people don't want to be stopped walking to and from their cars, to and from the gym, to and from work.  It's what I've been thinking about after being thrown out of a store downtown following a miscommunication with an employee who gave me permission to petition indoors, permission she apparently did not have the authority to give. 

Still, the past half hour or so has been successful; people stopping to talk with me, the majority of them happy to sign, some more eager than others. I'm getting to know the way a person will respond based on any number of factors: their level of eye contact, speed, and yes, age.  The 20-something's are perhaps the most hesitant. They're broke, for starters, and unlikely to give me the time to clarify that I'm not asking for money. They're also a little suspicious and a little cool and more than a little overwhelmed. I was one of them a few months ago, and I know the feeling: you're responsible for knowing everything, having all the information, and making something of it. Pick a place to live. Pick a career. Pick a spouse. Pick a cause. Pick where you're going to party this weekend. With so much, it's easy to tune out, walk by, keep your eye on the one and only prize. What's your signature going to do to help when the world is so big, and threatening to melt out of existence, anyway?

It's the elderly people who nearly always sign, a discovery that's surprised me.  “What's happening now?” they ask, shaking their heads as they reach for the pen. Very little, if any, of the information I pass along seems to shock them. They've been part of this world for awhile, and they've also seen that change is possible. They've rioted, carried signs, witnessed the evolution of women's rights and gay rights and they've witnessed a day impossible at their birth: the inauguration of a black president. They've signed their names. It's what they can do. It's what I can do. And it's something.

On the corner of Washington and Ashley, a man comes out of a restaurant. He's middle-aged, greying, eyes that look a little mad inventor-ish, smiling. Would you be interested in signing a petition to stop Michigan's wolves from being hunted for sport?  “You know,” he says, pointing to the restaurant,“someone from the DA is in there. You should ask him to sign.”  I will, thanks. I appreciate that.  “I was just talking to him about Ann Arbor. So many people living on the streets. We really have to do something. Do you know about it?”  I know a little. I completely agree with you. There are so many people who need help.  “That's right. We need to help these people.”  We do. The whole world needs a lot of help. There's a lot of work to be done.  “That's right.”  The man nods and turns to go.  In the spirit of helping those who can't help themselves, would you like to add your signature?  The man looks at me. He's still smiling.  “No thanks,” he says.  “But God bless you.”

To find a petition-signing location please visit www.keepwolvesprotected.com.

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Article Comments

  • Anonymous

    So beautifully written! After collecting signatures for this cause myself, I felt like I was reading a narrative of my own experiences. Love it!

  • Anonymous

    So well stated. I am volunteering to gather signatures at an event in northern michigan tomorrow. Your article gives me hope we can succeed in saving these beautiful animals

  • Anonymous

    I strongly support a legal wolf hunt. Yooper, YMMV

  • Anonymous

    I’m a Yooper as well so I had to say I strongly oppose a wolf hunt! All the Yoopers I know are opposed as well!

  • Anonymous

    Having never collected signatures, I too am surprised at myself for having the courage to ask complete strangers for their signature. My first time out was met with gruff responses and avoidance like I had the plague. I surprised myself for having the fortitude to try again, My second attempt was much better. Now, after many times out collecting, I can almost pinpoint who will sign and who will blow me off. One thing I have learned from this experience, is that the next time I am asked to sign a petition, I will stop, listen, make my decision and thank them for volunteering their time for a cause they believe in and wish them luck even if I choose not to sign.

  • Anonymous

    Do any of you realize a LEGAL wolf hunt would actually be better for the wolves?

  • Anonymous

    Lies, lies and more lies are being spread by the uninformed our want to protect wolves in the UP. The Michigan DNR only publishes the minimum number of wolves not an estimate of actual numbers.

    Did you know that according to Russ Mason of the MDNR we have over 5 times the wolf numbers required for a sustainable population? Wolves need to be managed for all stakeholders not for the few who do not have to live with them in our backyards. If you want them raise money to have them transplanted to your home county.

    UP residents have been waiting for the day where wolf numbers can be controlled and reduced down to reasonable levels. If the hunting season is cancelled or delayed the wolf population will see a dramatic population decline and that is not something anybody wants. When that happens the only one to blame will be the ones who signed the anti wolf hunting petition.

    Help protect Michigan wolves by sending them to the taxidermist and not left to rot in the field.

  • Anonymous

    Please do not sign the petition. I have not met a UP resident who does not want the their numbers to be controlled.

    Nobody wants a toxic waste dump in their backyard just like nobody wants an uncontrolled wolf population in your backyard.

    If the trolls from down below want wolves; pay to have them transplanted to your home county. In 20 years let us Yoopers know how you like it. They double in population about every 7 years so you will have lots of enjoyment of watching all the animals that once graced your habitat disappear just like it has above the bridge.

    I like knowing wolves are around but the current population is out of control. Bring on the hunters.

  • Anonymous

    I have to ask why are these petitions being started in counties and signed by those who do not live in wolf country?

    Are you making an informed decision for what is best for our UP residents?

  • Anonymous

    I moved out of town to enjoy the piece and quiet of the country. I no longer can walk the woodlot behind my house without being armed due to the constant threat of wolves. I will not even let my grand kids play outside without having a firearm in reach.

    Let the DNR decide if we need to reduce their numbers not people who are unfamiliar with our situation. I don’t care if the government has to pay hunters and trappers to come in to get rid of these killing machines. It makes more sense to have hunters buy a $100 tag than to use tax money to control the current population of wolves.

    Do an internet search for the picture of the the DNR officer holding the wolf that was hit by a snowmobile near Watersmet. How many of those would you want roaming the woods near your home.

  • Anonymous

    If this comes down to a vote the yoopers should be the only ones who vote. You can’t go and say these animals cause no harm and should be saved when you aren’t the one with them in your backyard.

  • Anonymous

    All we have here are coyotes in the lower part of the state and I have lost 3 cats in the last 5 years. I found what was left of one of them with my 4 year old out behind our house up on top of the hill. Wolves are a lot more dangerous than a coyote. They are killing eating machines. They are not going to hunt them to extinction only control their numbers. Which will end up actually helping them as a whole and keeping pets and people safer. If their numbers are out of control once they have eaten all the deer what will they come after. I have been around them my whole life and it is serious business. Most of the people that sign those petitions are not truly educated.

  • Anonymous

    I oppose the wolf hunt and these wildlife hating inbred hunters who hate wildlife and destroy OUR wildlife must be stopped from killing our wildlife. The wolves belong to ALL of those in MI. Why don’t you cowardly hunters try hunting something that can defend itself you spineless cowards. The wolves will continue managing the deer.

  • Anonymous

    I somehow doubt the person who claims to have moved out of town to “enjoy the piece and quiet of the country”. I can no longer let my grandchildren out into the woods near my home due to the reckless coyote hunters shooting at anything they see. It literally does not end. Not at night, not during any season of the year. Last September a boy was shot after other hunting for the day ended, because a coyote shooter saw some movement in the brush. I would not be surprised if the potential wolf hunters want to shoot at night too.

    The last thing I need is another bunch of nimrods slinging lead around pretending to be protecting people from an animal that does not attack humans.

  • Anonymous

    Bring on the hunters? You hunters are wildlife destroying cowards. You hunters suffer from low self esteem. The wolves will manage the deer. Don’t you psychopaths ever think about anything else besides killing OUR wildlife?

  • Anonymous

    Hunters are more dangerous to people than wolves. In Oregon, a bear hunter shot a marine thinking it was a bear. Numerous people have been shot by hunters. Hunters are far more dangerous to humans than wolves. Hunters pose a threat to public safety.

  • Anonymous

    Wow I can not believe some of the hate spewing from some of the anti hunter’s key boards. How many of you actually have ever been to the UP or even know where it is for that matter. Only UP land owners and residents should have a say in this issue not the trolls from down below.

    Have you antis ever seen the damage that wolves can do? Did you even know that wolves kill for sport and just abandon their kill? Have you ever had your dogs killed right in front of you, well I have? I lost my 2 chessies while unlocking the gate to my camp.

    Wolves will die not matter what happens. Why are you trying to make law breakers out of people who just want the wolves controlled?

  • Anonymous

    From the Editors: This is a complex and often emotional topic. Please be sure you are making your points without making disparaging comments or writing slurs toward those that don’t agree with you. To keep the conversation as civil and productive as possible, we will be removing comments that include name calling or derogatory statements about those they disagree with.

  • Anonymous

    Wolves killing deer is not “damage”. Livestock are a non native species. It’s nature and the fact that you wildlife hating hunters are bringing up poaching just shows what deranged people you are. Put down your gun and pick up a camera and be a real conservationist.

  • Anonymous

    Wolves kill for sport and abandon their kill? You hunters kill for sport too. Why else do you hunters call yourselves “sportsmen”? hypocrites. Wolves kill elk and deer and they eat most of their kills. If they don’t eat their kills for whatever reason, the leftovers will feed many wild animals like coyotes, bears, birds, cougars, etc. Wild animals benefit from wolf kills. Educate yourself because if you continue hating predators, the public will turn against you hunters like they have already been doing. Hunters are on the decline and many Americans would rather shoot wildlife with a camera, not a gun. The real conservationists are those who shoot wild animals with cameras. A lot of dead deer and elk is very good for the environment as these dead animals provide food for scavengers and other forms of wildlife.

  • Anonymous

    You hunters need to be educated on nature. Everyone knows that you hunters don’t like nature, but you love killing it. Everytime a wolf kills an elk or deer, the remains of those elk and deer will feed many wild animals who happen to come across it.

  • Anonymous

    Quite out of character for me to leave social media commentary. I am doing so out of the respect and admiration I hold for the essay eliciting the comments previously written.

    Let me introduce myself to some of you, as the first Upper Peninsula resident you now know in support of the referendum to PA 520. Let me assure you, there are countless others up here ardently supporting the issue as well. Why? Because we are aware that much of the support for a public hunt of the gray wolf is based on misconception and fear. This fear is natural, it’s what all animals experience when another predator enters their territory. Left unchecked however, these fears have evolved into centuries’ old phobias. Please allow me to dispel some of the aforementioned, false notions.

    Wolf management is already in place in Michigan. PA 290 and PA 318 allow for both lethal and non-lethal control of nuisance wolf activity in regard to livestock and pets. The referendum to PA 520, if successful, will in no way alter these management practices. Furthermore, the data to suggest that a random hunt would actually result in a decrease of depredation events, does not exist. Just check the statisticd out of Idaho and Montana. Clearly, those wolf populations most likely exhibit different behaviors than those of their Great Lakes counterparts. That being said, we’d prefer to analyze the data that will emerge out of Minnesota and Wisconsin, two states that did indeed rush into a hunt. If the referendum is successful, we’ll all have approximately two years to gather this data, and make a better informed decision in 2014.

    Wolves, as all species do if left to management of the natural order, have mechanisms to control their own population densities once the biological carrying capacity is breached. They will usurp, or more often kill other pack members of competing territories. A less confrontative mechanism would be to move to a different territory where food competition is not as stressed. So far, these two mechanisms do not appear to be in play where wolf density is the highest in the U.P. Therefore what we are really talking about here, is a social carrying capacity. This theoretical framework, if one could even call it that, is riddled with bias. The thought of wolf carcasses left to rot without human intervention is absurd. In fact, human intervention in regard to species management is exactly what can lead to this. Approximately 60,000 white tail deer succumb to malnutrition every winter up here. And for what? Because we eliminated their top predator years ago, and “managed” them to a level that increases the hunter’s success rate.

    Wolves are not “killing machines”, they kill to survive. The remove approximately 23,000 deer annually for that noble cause. For most of our population still “surviving” off of an animal based diet, someone else is doing the killing for us. 10,000,000,000 farm animals alone are killed just in the U.S. annually. That’s right, 10 billion. Who are the killing machines? And wolves don’t kill for sport. If a deer or other animal is found taken down but not eaten, it’s because wolves are efficient opportunists. If the animal can not be consumed in one sitting, wolves will not open the carcass, thereby allowing scavengers to reap the benefits of the energy expended by the pack. I watched Senator Tom Casperson hold up pictures of this very phenomenon, claiming the wolves must be hunted because they weren’t “acting right”. Clearly the transfer of misinformation begins near the top.

    Wolves do not put us in danger. This is by far perhaps the most prevalent phobia that exists today. I’ve had two wolf encounters up here. One with a lone wolf, the other looking down to the river bottom at a group of three. Both resulted in a swift exit of the scene upon their first seeing me or hearing my voice. There has never been a documented wolf attack on a human in Michigan, and never once has a human been fatally attacked by a wolf in the lower 48 states. To the contrary, 20-30 people die as a result of domestic dog attacks annually, most of them children. 53 of us succumb to bee stings every year. 3 people died in Michigan during 2012 as the indirect result of a mosquito bite! We’d be better serving our children by placing them in insect netting with strict instructions not to pet the neighbor’s dog every time they went outside to play,

    You see, a dichotomous nature exists among “yoopers” as it does for all the rest. Some hold on to fear, and allow the mind to run rampant with terrifying visions that ultimately control one’s actions. Others, tap into the higher order cognitive functions of the human brain, and use logic to categorize which information is to be accepted, and which is to be discarded. We understand the intrinsic value placed on every part of an ecosystem, including our role as a player, a contributor, not as the control. This referendum signifies that we are no longer willing to make decisions regarding ecosystem management based on economic gains and losses, or the recreational interests of a few. Change is difficult. But it is the one universal law that can never be broken. Entropy. We’ve strived as a species to bend it in our favor. And we are now beginning to see that much less energy is expended, needed, if we just play a little closer to the rules which have been in effect since the beginning of time. Change is coming, embrace it.

  • Anonymous

    Let the DNR biologists decide; that is what they are paid for. If you have not noticed emotional people tend to make bad decisions.

  • Anonymous

    The DNR is in charge of the WI wolf hunt. It was closed when the numbers approached the 116 wolf limit. It raised a good amount of $ and left plenty of wolves. That’s the way it should be done. The alternative are carcasses rotting in a swamp, well hidden of course.

    I actually saw a lady talking down hunting as she was eating a chicken sandwich.

  • Anonymous

    The hunt in Wisconsin did not reduce the wolf poaching but ended up being added on to the wolves killed. Nearly all of the wolves killed caused no problem and were merely existing in their families.

  • Anonymous

    Poaching still happens even when there is a hunt. There is no hunt needed and you hunters continue to give yourselves a bad image to the non-hunting public. Be a real conservationist and put your guns down and pick the camera up. To say that a hunting season is going to reduce poaching is based on no evidence what so ever. What these hunters would have you believe that if there is a killing season on wolves, people will stop poaching wolves and this is a lie. You hunters who poach wolves are anti-wildlife and you will get caught. There are always eyes out there even when you don’t see them. The amount of wolves poached doesn’t put a dent in the wolf population. The people of MI want these animals protected from these sickos who love shooting wild animals with their guns.

  • Anonymous

    There’s some fresh data for some that seldom deal in reality. The very latest survey has the Yellowstone Elk numbers in a continued, steady decline. They went from 20,000 in 1992 down to under 4,000 just this Winter.

    Only a few calves make it to maturity. I do realize you would rather have the wolves reduce deer numbers than have $$ generating hunters do it.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the yellowstone elk herd has been reduced in numbers. I know you hunters would love to blame it on wolves and just them, but the fact is there are numerous reasons why the yellowstone elk herd has dropped. Wolves certainly eat their fair share of elk and there is nothing wrong with this. It does not mean wolves should be killed just for eating their natural prey. Wolves have much more of a right to the elk than the elk and deer hunters.

  • http://community.mynorth.com/members/norm-mackey/ Norm Mackey

    Wolves do not threaten to reduce the hundreds of thousands of deer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; using Yellowstone is a bogus argument, in the West game animals can be impacted hugely just by a rainy or dry year having to share their forage with livestock. In MI mostly wildlife lives in the wild and farmers can usually look out their window and see most of their animals.

    I’m not a Yooper, but I play one on TV. Nah, that’s a fib, I don’t really play one on TV either. Anonymous accounts are fun, aren’t they? Why aren’t I using one?

  • Anonymous

    Sound science for wildlife was voted on by Michigan voters and pasted. I am in support of the evidence collected to have a wolf hunt. Wolfs are running thru and around some UP communities. Like the resident stated,”we just need to drive them away form our town” and no intension of over harvest based on SCIENCE and not emtion.

  • http://community.mynorth.com/members/maddog/ maddog

    I have been a writer all of my adult life and not once have I ever left a comment on a site like this, nor written a letter to the editor, without adding my signature. Unless you add your name to what you write, what you have to say is void of conviction. The fact that my daughter wrote this piece has nothing to do with my stance. If you write, own it.

    yrs,

    Mike Delp

  • Anonymous

    Great article! Thank you so much. We are well on our way to successfully protecting Michigan’s wolves from trophy hunting.

  • Anonymous

    Then I’d say it would be O.K. To take the wolf population down 80%, just like the Yellowstone elk herd. The Elk went down just as the wolf numbers were ramping up, 1992 to present. I’m content to let the State game officials set hunting seasons and bag limits.