Licenses for Michigan’s first managed wolf hunt sold briskly today, with 900 of the 1,200 available snatched up in 30 minutes.
As of 5 p.m. Saturday, only about 100 of the 1,200 licenses were still available, said Ed Golder, public information officer for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Licenses cost $100 for residents, $500 for non-residents.
“It went excellently,” said Golder of the first-come first-served sale that began at noon. The effort had been delayed to ensure proper procedures were in place to handle high demand online and at 1,400 retail outlets.
Even if there is a sellout, he urged hunters to check back as licenses may be returned if the buyer is ineligible, there are payment issues or cancellations.
While the Nov. 15 hunt will target just 43 wolves total in three Upper Peninsula locations, it has become highly controversial. Those on both sides of the issue accuse each other of spreading misinformation and half-truths.
Generally there are about five wolves in a pack dominated by an alpha male, though packs can be larger. Douglas Smith/National Park Service
The state says the hunt is a necessary tool to reduce wolves in areas where they have entered communities and to manage wolf numbers in areas where cattle and dogs have been killed.
There have been 155 such predation reports from 2010 through this week, some involving more than one animal. That’s about the same number as for the previous 14 years.
Critics say those numbers are grossly exaggerated, particularly by one farmer’s actions and his failure to properly use state-provided deterrents. They say the effort is little more than a trophy hunt, and that lethal and non-lethal means already exist to manage wolves.
“The facts speak for themselves and it just shows this is all politically motivated and has nothing to do with science,” said Nancy Warren, a resident of the western Upper Peninsula town of Ewen and the Great Lakes regional director for the preservationist National Wolfwatcher Coalition.
DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell, a wolf specialist in Marquette, says critics “cherry pick facts and leave out facts.”
“This is another control for minimizing wolf conflicts, a very conservative approach for taking away 43 animals,” Roell said.
Gray wolves essentially disappeared from Michigan by the time they received endangered species status in 1978.
It would be a decade before the state counted just three wolves in 1988-89. Their numbers grew exponentially, peaking at 687 in 2010-11. The current census puts their number at 658.
The resurgence here and in Minnesota and Wisconsin led the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lift protections for the gray wolf in January 2012.
Minnesota and Wisconsin allowed hunts last year. This will be the first controlled hunt in Michigan.
Critics hope it will be the last.
The ballot group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is gathering signatures to put a referendum on next year’s ballot. The effort seeks to throw out a law that allowed the Natural Resources Commission this summer to designate wolves as a game animal.
The Legislature shifted that authority to the commission, essentially to get around a successful petition drive by the group that would have stopped this year’s hunt.
The group hopes to have enough signatures by March to support the new ballot measure.
The upcoming hunt will be limited to three areas in the Upper Peninsula. The areas and the number of wolves that can be killed are:
• Zone A: A portion of Gogebic County including the city of Ironwood, 16.
• Zone B: Portions of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties, 19.
• Zone C: Portions of Luce and Mackinac counties, 8.
The hunt will run from Nov. 15 until Dec. 31, or until the target harvest for each area is reached.
Hunters will be required to report any wolf kills by phone on the day it occurs. Once the target number of wolves are killed in a specific hunting area, that unit will be closed to hunting. License holders will be required to check daily by phone or online to determine whether any zones have been closed.