In Michigan and other states, wildlife managers appease trophy hunters at great cost to wildlife

Most Americans do not support the wanton killing of wolves and other wildlife by trophy hunters and want them protected. But state wildlife managers, instead of respecting the majority and the science, are often eager to appease a shrinking population of trophy hunters and trappers. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Michigan, which recently announced the membership of its wolf management advisory council.

The council was selected by the head of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources to make its recommendations on the state’s wolf management plan. It requires the presence of an animal advocacy organization and a tribal representative, but the remaining three slots were filled with members who are staunchly in support of killing wolves for fun. Not a single wolf scientist was appointed.

The council’s makeup is hardly representative of Michigan, where citizens voted overwhelmingly in 2014 to repeal two dangerous laws that established a trophy hunting season on the state’s fragile wolf population and stripped voters’ right to have a say on it. Instead, this new council is just the latest in a series of actions by Michigan policymakers to ensure that citizens’ voices are marginalized while trophy hunters continue to dictate the state’s wildlife policy.

In 2014, when the state’s residents were about to vote down the two wolf hunting referendums in the general election, the legislature handed the power to designate wolves as a game species to the governor-appointed, seven-member Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC), which has the “exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game and sportfish.”

The NRC is advised by the DNR and various citizen councils. Their meetings are open to public comment. While this might appear, on the surface, to be a democratic system that takes into account the perspectives of a variety of stakeholders, it is not. NRC members are not accountable to voters and they cannot be voted out of office for their decisions, which gives them the power to do what they want to without fear of retribution from anyone who does not agree with their decisions, including Michigan’s residents.

It is not much different with other wildlife citizen advisory councils and department heads in the state. For example, Michigan’s Bear Management Forum is made up of 19 members, of which a shocking 15 represent trophy hunting organizations, including those who participate in the cruel baiting and hound hunting of bears, and Safari Club International, one of the world’s largest trophy hunting groups. This forum, along with the DNR, provides recommendations on the trophy hunting of bears in the state, including where to place bait barrels, requirements for hunting with dogs, and quotas.

There’s also the misleadingly named Michigan Wildlife Council, created “to educate about the importance of wildlife conservation and the role of hunters and anglers in preserving Michigan’s great outdoor heritage for future generations.” The council is stacked with industry and media shills for hunting, fishing and agriculture interests who have little to say on a range of wildlife issues important to many Michiganders, such as protecting wolves and ending wildlife killing contests and other cruel and unsporting practices.

It is not just Michigan where we see managers pushing anti-wildlife policy forward against the wishes of state residents. Multiple members of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board, for instance, enthusiastically endorse wolf hunting, trapping and hounding –something most Wisconsinites do not support. New Jersey’s Fish and Game Council consists solely of hunters, anglers and farmers. And last week, we told you about the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission’s ongoing and increasing persecution of bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes and swift foxes to trophy hunters and trappers.

State wildlife management agencies deliberately use language that clouds the issue for the average person when they announce their decisions. They also claim that they are in the business of “conservation,” even though their notion of conservation is to just provide more hunting opportunities. When wildlife advocates speak out at agency meetings in the interests of the animals, they are usually ignored or dismissed. Even the voices of scientists typically go unheeded, as they did in Wisconsin, which unleashed a bloodbath on its wolves recently.

This clearly needs to change. Wildlife agencies should be making their decisions to protect wild animals and the wishes of the majority of their residents and not to please trophy hunters. If you live in Michigan or any state where your wildlife managers are serving special interests and not wildlife, be the voice to bring about change for the better. Let your own state wildlife commission know that they cannot simply manage wildlife to benefit the interests of trophy hunters and trappers. Attend meetings, write letters, and demand that they create policies that reflect your values as well. Remind the powers-that-be in your state that wildlife is a public trust that is shared by all.

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