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Are people in Ironwood really afraid of wolves? (part 2)

Governor Rick Snyder signed a law yesterday afternoon that will allow a state wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula.

Later today, Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission is expected to vote on whether to authorize the hunt. That decision could have an effect on one town on the far western edge of the Upper Peninsula.

Ironwood is about as far west as you can go in the Upper Peninsula.   This town of about 5,000 is a small town with a big wolf problem. 

More than 90 wolf complaints have been filed from the city of Ironwood since 2010.   The problem is, deer are attracted to the city for safety and food, and the wolves follow the deer into town. 

Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?

Last month, during a legislative debate on the wolf hunt, State Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) invoked Ironwood as he criticized opponents of the proposed wolf hunt.

“None of them have gone to Ironwood, Michigan to see how my citizens are living now…when they are living in fear.”

Casperson went on to say people in Ironwood won’t even let their children play in the backyard, because they know the wolves are there. 

It may sound like political hyperbole to you, but I went to Ironwood to find out.

A visit to Ironwood

After a long winter, the snow is finally melting in the western Upper Peninsula, and many people in Ironwood are taking advantage of the spring-like weather, dressing in shorts and flip flops, while still walking around huge piles of snow.  

Garth Stengard was playing catch with his young daughter in the driveway of their Ironwood home.   Stengard, like others I talked to in town, said he wasn’t afraid of the wolves, however, he says the wolves’ boldness is a concern.

“Right now the wolves are not scared of people, and that tends to be a threat.”

Tim Johnson lives a few streets over. Johnson says he’s more concerned that the wolves might be depleting the area’s deer population than he is about wolves in town. 

But he admits the wolves are on his mind.

“You second guess a lot of the stuff that you would normally just not having any questions just going out, walking through your backyard, or whatever, you never know…never know.”

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has been studying the effects of wolves on the Upper Peninsula.

Adam Bump is the point man on wolves for the DNR. Bump says the wolves have become very accustomed to life in Ironwood.

“So you have wolves showing up in backyards, wolves showing up on porches, wolves staring at people through their sliding glass doors…while they're pounding on it…exhibiting no fear.”

There have been no wolf attacks on people in Michigan.

Some aggressive wolves have been put down, but if the hunt goes through, the state wants to take out another 16 in the Ironwood area. 

Not everyone in Ironwood is afraid of the wolves, or supports the hunt.  

Over at the Pines Café, owner Sue Graumann shows off her love of the gray wolf. There’s a porcelain wolf statue in a glass case in the counter, and wolf pictures on the walls.

Graumann says she’s never seen a wolf in town, though she’s seen them in the woods outside of Ironwood. She blames old myths and superstitions about the wolves for the desire of some to hunt the animals.

“We will always have myths of these creatures, and some you’re never going to take away, but do I think this city is paralyzed in fear over the wolf situation? No.”

One thing everyone I spoke to in Ironwood seems to agree on, is that they are concerned the people who are making the final decision about a wolf hunt do so without really understanding their lifestyle...or the place of the wolf in the Upper Peninsula.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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