by Fritz Klug
The Michigan Natural Resources Commission has again voted to allow a wolf hunt in parts of the Upper Peninsula this fall.
The commission voted 5 to 1 on Thursday to designate wolves as a game species and allow the hunt, starting in mid-November. While the wolves will be hunted this fall, an opposition group is working to block any future wolf hunting in the state through a second planned voter referendum.
“Managing wildlife through science is far better than managing wildlife through ballot questions, which some organizations support for Michigan,” said NRC Chair J.R. Richardson. “The conservative public harvest proposal approved by the NRC ensures the long-term presence of wolves while providing a valuable tool for managing conflicts between wolves and human populations.”
The NRC vote comes after a new law approved by the Michigan Legislature which gave the NRC the authority to establish new game species. While the NRC voted to allow the hunt earlier this year, it needed to vote again under terms of the new law. In May, the commission voted 6-1 to allow the hunt.
Members of the NRC are appointed by the governor.
The hunt will be limited to 43 wolves in three separate areas of the UP in an attempt to decrease population in those specific areas. There are an estimated 658 wolves in Michigan’s UP overall.
Supporters of the hunt say wolves are causing problems in the Upper Peninsula. There are reports of wolves killing livestock and pets. Residents also said wolves have become increasingly comfortable around humans and fear that they may attack small children.
Those opposed to the hunt, however, question if the wolf population — which was once endangered — could handle a hunt. They also say wolves are a natural resource and voters should decide if there should be a hunt.
“The voters of Michigan—not politicians and bureaucrats—should have their voices heard on whether our state’s fragile wolf population is needlessly hunted for trophies,” said Jill Fritz of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, who is the state director for The Humane Society of the United States.
The organization Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has organized petition drives to get the wolf-hunting question on the 2014 ballot.
The group collected 250,000 signatures aimed at overturning the previous state law that allowed a wolf hunt. But the Legislature’s approval of a newer law made that effort moot, and opponents now would have to mount a second petition drive aimed at overturning the newer law — enacted earlier this year.
Earlier this month, the group submitted new language to stage a second petition drive aimed at banning wolf hunting in Michigan. Tomorrow, the Board of State Canvassers will meet and consider the ballot language.
“It would be extremely difficult” to finish the petition drive by the November vote, said Fritz.
During the meeting, several members of the public spoke against the wolf hunt.
The first referendum seeks to overturn Public Act 520 of 2012. The new referendum would seek to overturn Public Act 21 of 2013. Both measures could make the November 2014 ballot.
The Upper Peninsula is home to an estimated 658 wolves. That’s up from roughly 500 in 2008 and approximately 200 in 2000. The state counted just three wolves in 1989.
The thee zones for the fall hunt are:
1.A portion of Gogebic County including the city of Ironwood.
2.Portions of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties.
3.Portions of Luce and Mackinac counties.
There will be 1,200 licenses available for over-the-counter purchase starting Aug. 3. The hunt will begin Nov. 15.
Hunters will be required to report a killed wolf by phone on the day the wolf is killed. Once the target number of wolves are killed in a specific hunting zone, that unit is closed to hunting. Licensed hunters will be required to check daily by phone or online to determine whether any management units have been closed.