November 17, 2013
Took a drive between Chelsea and Lansing yesterday on Rtes. 52 and 36. Saw lots of hunters down by Pinkney. Some were in camo and Jeep Cherokees. One was in feathers and aloft over an open field, looking for field mice, I guess. Friday was the opening of deer season in Michigan, though I’m not sure that the hawk was paying much attention to that. She has a license to thrill 365 days a year, so if you happen to be a field mouse, watch out for that distinctive profile against the marble grey Michigan skies.
It’s also wolf season this year in Michigan. Four have been taken so far according to this morning’s news reports. The DNR claims that the hunt has been specifically designed as a program to control “chronic conflict” between wolves and humans. Well, I suppose there is some kind of logic to the idea that you can control chronic conflict between two antagonists by simply blowing one of them away. But I think we are going to regret this approach.
I appreciate the fact that this is not actually the rationale behind the DNR’s plan to give out 1200 wolf permits in 2013. DNR, by the way, is how Michigander’s refer to the Department of Natural Resources. “As the wind comes whispering through / the trees, the sweet smell of nature’s in the air. From the Great Lakes to a quiet stream, shining like a sportsman’s dream…” Sorry, there just aren’t that many good Michigan songs that don’t involve dying sailors.
So the DNR thinks that shooting a few wolves will make them more wary of people, residential areas and farms. I firmly believe that any mammal and quite likely any vertebrate is going to figure whether or not it is being hunted and will do so pretty darn quick. That’s why it’s so important for all those folks in camo and Cherokees to be out on the very first weekend of deer season. You’re hanging around Pinckney on Thursday and you are just covered up by deer. Then bang and seemingly it only takes one bang on Friday and the deer have already figured out that it’s time to make themselves scarce. The DNR is figuring that wolves are at least as smart as deer, and that it won’t take too many dead wolves for them to become more wary of people, residential areas and farms.
But based on absolutely zero empirical evidence (well maybe “zero” is a slight overstatement) I think that wolves are a whole lot smarter than deer, and that’s why I think it’s pretty foolish to presume that they will necessarily respond by becoming more wary of people, residential areas and farms. Au contraire Chucko, I think that there is a non-zero probability that the wolves will respond by becoming more aggressive around people, residential areas and farms. Not that you will see them walk right up to you. You could call what I half-way expect greater wariness, but I would call it shrewdness and cunning. More to the point, although a lone wolf or a pack is not going to necessarily pass up a cow or sheep standing out there in some farmer’s pasture, as of right now there’s no particular reason to think that they are hunting us. Maybe the DNR is concerned that the 65 cases of “fearless behavior” they have confirmed among wolves is a reason to think that they might become emboldened enough to take advantage of some lone woodland jogger. I wouldn’t actually doubt that myself. What I do question is the DNR’s confidence that popping a few wolves will make them fearful.
That might work for the deer, but in the case of wolves, I think it’s entirely possible that it will just make them mad. I suspect that wolves have observed human behavior and that they are more “wary” than the DNR suspects. They’ve just concluded—with some fair evidence, mind you—that there’s no reason to defend their turf from humans. They think that we can coexist.
Whatever else this wolf hunt will do, it will very likely shatter the canine faith in that conclusion.
Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Professor of Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University