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The Environment and the Wolves

Jack Lessenberry

It’s no exaggeration to say that Governor Rick Snyder’s first term was largely a disappointment to many environmental organizations. The League of Conservation Voters, which had endorsed Snyder in 2010, did not do so last year.

Yet the governor did please environmentalists yesterday when he vetoed an absolutely horrible bill that would have prevented the Department of Natural Resources from considering biodiversity when deciding how to manage and protect our woods and waters.

This didn’t please the Michigan Forest Products Council, which tends to see trees as exactly that: Products to be harvested. Nor did it please State Senator Tom Casperson of Escanaba, the bill’s main sponsor, who complained that the governor was spending too much time listening to environmental groups.

However, for once, the League of Conservation Voters is pleased with the governor. Lisa Wozniak, the state executive director, praised him for striking down a bill that “rejected science-based land management principles," and for “denying another attempt to roll back protections for the parks and forests that warrant them the most.”

So far, so good.

But there are seldom final victories in politics. Casperson is vowing to try again, and while the governor vetoed this bill, he signed another to weaken environmental cleanup standards.

But while the legislature is gearing up for another year of budget and other partisan battles, there is another golden opportunity to do something else for the environment. For the last few years, we’ve been bitterly fighting over whether to allow wolf hunting.

Senator Casperson is a leader of those who believe that the six hundred and fifty or so wolves in the Upper Peninsula are too many. Environmentalists disagree. But what everybody does agree on is that there are too few wolves on Isle Royale.

According to wildlife experts, there are only about nine wolves left on the two hundred-square mile island in Lake Superior.

That wolf pack is too small and too inbred to survive long-term. As the wolves have dwindled, the moose population has dramatically increased. Wildlife experts fear that all these moose will do major damage to the island’s vegetation before eventually starving in a great die-off.

Well, there’s an obvious easy and probably not very expensive solution: Capture several wolf packs in the UP and transport the animals to Isle Royale.

You need ideally to move entire packs, which tend to have ten to twelve individuals, because the function as family groups. Last month, Ron Kagan, the Detroit zoo director, told me this idea made a lot of sense.

Kagan, who is in the process of building a new wolf habitat at the zoo, offered the zoo’s help in catching and moving the wolves if the state was interested.

However, nobody seems to be floating this idea at all, so I am. It sounds like a no-brainer. For a modest cost, we could protect and help the environment in two places in Michigan.

The environment, and the wolves. Nor would this directly address the hunting issue.

There would be plenty enough animals left in the UP to soon replace whatever wolves would be moved.

Meanwhile, the ecology of Isle Royale would be saved.

So, why not do something?

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. You can read his essays online at michiganradio.org. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.

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