A team of researchers from Michigan State University, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan Technological University are looking into the potential removal of wolves from federal protection under the Endangered Species Act and what that removal means for Michigan's residents – both people and wolves.
"We're covering new ground here," says Michelle Lute, a graduate student in MSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, whose doctoral work focuses on this issue. "The distribution and abundance of wolves are just the beginning; we would like to understand why people value – or don't value – wolves and what management strategies they will support."
The team is supported by a grant from the MDNR to improve the effectiveness of current and future wolf management in Michigan by increasing knowledge and understanding of the social factors influencing support for wolves and wolf management.
"Once wolves are removed from federal protection, it is up to Michigan to manage its own wolf population," says Meredith Gore, assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and adviser to Lute. "Wolves can be considered an endangered species success story and are becoming the 'poster species' for delisting. We have a good idea of what current wolf management in Michigan looks like, yet we are trying to understand how people will coexist with wolves under potentially new management scenarios."
The four-year project will feature surveys, focus groups and media analysis to:
• identify current risk perceptions, values, beliefs, attitudes, social and personal norms, and behaviors among stakeholder groups to help to predict public responses to potential policy changes;
• understand how risk perception and values affect willingness of stakeholder groups to support wolves and wolf management; and
• develop decision-support tools to help managers assess the ability of management strategies to balance stakeholder preferences, minimize wolf-related conflicts, maximize stakeholder benefits from wolves, foster positive interactions with wolves and manage relationships between people and wolves.
Other researchers involved in the project include Michael Nelson, associate professor in MSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Pat Lederle, research section supervisor in the MDNR's Wildlife Division; and John Vucetich, associate professor of animal ecology at MTU.