Because feelings run so deep in the wildlife and environmental arena we are making this a "moderated" blog. All comments will be read by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy before being posted. Please keep your comments factual, smart and civil. Don't attack other readers personally, and keep your language decent.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Senate Lets Ban on Wild Hogs Stand

The long-awaited ban on possessing wild hogs in Michigan went into effect on October 8, after the Senate failed to take up legislation that would let game ranches and breeding facilities continue to import and raise the animals.  In December 2010, the DNR had classified the wild hog as an invasive, exotic and prohibited species under Public Act 451, Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.  The DNR was required by the act to prohibit possession of any invasive species that met certain criteria.  The wild hog, which does more than $1.5 billion worth of damage annually to crops, forests and livestock nationwide, met all criteria.  The action, originally scheduled to take effect on July 8, was seen as critical to “shutting off the faucet” of wild hogs escaping from game ranches and breeding facilities across the state over the past ten years.  But the game ranch industry pushed legislators to replace the ban with a regulatory approach that would allow game ranches to continue to import and keep wild hogs.
Several bills were debated, but none made it out of the House of Representative’s Agriculture Committee.  However, in late June, a substitute bill was hastily sent (without committee review) to the House floor.  After unprecedented political arm-twisting by House Speaker Jase Bolger and Governor Rick Snyder, the House passed the bill despite strong opposition from the state’s agricultural leaders and conservation community.
The bill lacked the support to pass the Senate and so did not become law.  But just hours before the ban was to take effect on July 8, Governor Snyder ordered the DNR to extend the effective date until October 8, 2011 to “allow the Senate time to pass the legislation.”
The Conservancy has testified several times in support of the ban and in opposition to the proposed legislation.  The group believes the ban is necessary and that a regulatory approach would be contrary to the intent of Public Act 451.  The Senate agreed and did not move the ill-conceived legislation forward.  Implementation of the ban should now proceed, with aggressive enforcement expected on or before April 12, 2012.  Hopefully, no further political mischief will hinder efforts to control wild hogs in Michigan.
 As this issue went to press, the DNR was sending mixed messages about how the ban would be enforced.  One statement suggested the agency might delay enforcement to again give the legislature more time to approve a regulatory approach.  This would be ill-advised and probably illegal.  Michigan also has the huge challenge of eliminating wild hogs that are already roaming the State.  The wild hog situation requires a lot of work and continued vigilance.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Harvest Social 2011 - Great Turn Out!

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy would like to thank all of you who came out to our Fall Harvest Social of 2011 on Saturday, October 8.  Between 200 and 250 Mid-Michigan residents attended. 
The event which was free to the public featured special presentations by Mr. Wayne Jackson, a Native American Elder, who took the crowd on a historical journey of the Anasazi and Hopewell cultures; and docents from Lansing’s Potter Park Zoo who brought a menagerie of animals and animal skins to help teach young people about endangered species and some of the animals that live around us.
Harvest Social guests also enjoyed participating in an Apple Bob, Nature Scavenger Hunt, carving a duck head, making a pine-cone bird feeder, horse-drawn wagon rides (P.J.'s Percherons), bog tours, and habitat hikes.  Everyone had a chance to browse the Conservancy’s Dancing Crane Gift Shop for unique wildlife-and-garden-themed gifts and collectables.
Displays from Risks Apiary and the Bath Farmers Market rounded out the activities.
Thank you to all of our volunteers who helped make the Fall Harvest Social perfect!

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Politics of Cougar Management

We recently had a question about cougars and our president asked me to post this article.  This was published in the September-October issue of The Wildlife Volunteer in 2010.  Comments are welcome. 


In January 2009 the Michigan Senate Agriculture and Bioeconomy Committee held a hearing that concluded that the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) was stonewalling the presence of wild cougars in both peninsulas.  Committee Chairman Gerald Van Woerkom stated that he wanted to get to the bottom of this situation at the hearing’s conclusion, but I have still not seen an analysis that ties all of the pieces together with a set of probable motives.   So, I am offering these ideas on how the dots connect on a fascinating wildlife story and a surreal bureaucratic one.
    
The DNRE actions that angered Senator Van Woerkom’s Committee included dismissing thousands of plausible cougar sightings as meaningless, disputing or ignoring a large body of credible physical evidence, and repeatedly suggesting that any cougars that do show up here must have wandered 1,200 miles from South Dakota’s Black Hills.  The agency is widely suspected of doing these things to dodge its responsibility to manage cougars under the Michigan Endangered Species Act, but it also has some equally important and less well-known Federal motivations.   
     
These potential Federal motivations surfaced in 2001 when the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy published a technical paper that provided strong evidence that cougars were never totally eliminated from Northern Michigan and that our present ones are descended from native animals.  This possibility is important because Michigan’s traditional native cougar is the Federally endangered Eastern cougar, a separate subspecies from the endangered Florida panther to the south and a common western subspecies across the Mississippi River.

Several Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states also have a few cougars that could conceivably be Eastern ones, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) is conducting an Eastern cougar status review that will identify the locations that require field research.  Michigan should be a slam dunk research location because we have a large body of anecdotal cougar evidence from the 1930s to the present and numerous virtually irrefutable pieces of physical evidence that begin in 1966 and include clear photographs, sighting reports by DNRE personnel, and professionally verified hair, scat, tracks, and DNA.  (Interested readers can find more information on this evidence in a document entitled  “Milestones in the History of Cougars in Michigan” in the cougar section of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy website at www.miwildlife.org )    

The USFWS has excellent research capabilities and could use harmless hair traps and advanced DNA techniques to determine how Michigan cougars relate to other cougar populations and to the historical Eastern cougar.  This research is not apt to identify our cougars as endangered Eastern ones for a variety of taxonomic and practical reasons, but it probably would find a geographically distinctive cougar population with some small DNA differences from its South Florida and Western cousins.  And it certainly would end the Michigan coverup by finding wild cougars.

However, nothing involving Michigan cougars goes this smoothly, and my occasional  exchanges with the USFWS’ Eastern cougar team suggest that it is not receiving much evidence from the DNRE and is not interested in evidence from the MWC regardless of its scientific merits.  This looks like a recipe for grossly understating the Michigan evidence, and the Cougar Network’s “Big Picture Map” web page adds to this concern by showing a ridiculously low three pieces of Michigan cougar evidence.  This figure actually raises a whole set of concerns because of the Cougar Network’s close ties to the USFWS and state wildlife agencies, but my purpose here is to simply show how the USFWS study created potential motives for denying cougars and cougar evidence.
                                               
Those frequent DNRE insinuations that any cougars in Michigan must be wanderers from South Dakota’s Black Hills mesh with the agency’s forgetfulness about historical evidence and reluctance to accept new Michigan evidence.  The Black Hills cougar population did increase substantially in the 1990s, and an occasional male could conceivably have wandered to Michigan after the Black Hills became crowded by cougar standards.  However, 1,200 miles is a very long trip for a male cougar and even more unlikely for a female.  And eighty years of sightings and other evidence suggest that Northern Michigan had a small breeding population of cougars decades before the Black Hills population reached visible proportions.  As a result, the Black Hills scenario is extremely questionable and looks like a backup effort to discourage USFWS interest in Michigan cougars by portraying them as common western ones. 
                                   
While this is speculative, the dots tell me that a few DNRE managers are so opposed to managing a charismatic carnivore that they are willing to ignore Michigan law, conveniently forget a large body of historical evidence, and understate the evidence portion of an important Federal scientific study to avoid doing so.  Needless to say, this could not be happening without the fundamental problem of a broken oversight process.   

The DNRE does deserve credit for establishing a cougar team of specially trained biologists that has been conducting professional investigations and confirming cougar evidence in the Upper Peninsula for the past two years.  However, everyone also needs to remember that Michigan has an 80 year record of cougar evidence, and that our cougar history did not begin in 2008 when the cougar team began confirming evidence.  And cougar team investigations have been curiously absent in the Lower Peninsula.

Bill Taylor
President
Michigan Wildlife Conservancy

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

2011 Fall Harvest Social

FALL HARVEST SOCIAL

Hosted by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy & Clinton County Department of Waste Management

Saturday, October 8 – 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. – Rain or Shine! Bengel Wildlife Center – 6380 Drumheller Rd – Bath


· 1:30 p.m. – Wayne JacksonJoin Mr. Wayne Jackson in a historical journey dating back 10,000 years. With Mr. Jackson, a Tuscarora Indian, as your guide you will travel back in time and explore the Anasazi and Hopewell cultures through storytelling and dance.


· 3:00 p.m. – Endangered Species! - Visit with animals brought by the Potter Park Zoo Society. Mostly endangered species and some common Michigan animals. Learn more about these animals and even touch them!


The following activities will run throughout the day –

Explore the Bengel Wildlife Center grounds by taking a habitat hike or bog tour
Take a horse-drawn wagon ride and learn about the history of prairies in Michigan.

Bob for apples, create a craft, carve a duck head or go on a nature scavenger hunt. Win a prize!

Learn about honey bees, visit the Dancing Crane Gift Shop and more.

The Harvest Social is Open to the Public and Most Activities are Free
(there is a .25 fee for some activities) – Rain or Shine!


Who Will Be Here
Wayne Jackson
The Potter Park Zoo Society (with animals)
P.J.'s Percherons L.C. (Horse Drawn Carriage Service)
Risks Apiary and Honey House
Farmers Market

Please JOIN US for a day of fun!

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy