Twenty-three gray wolves died in the state's regulated hunt of the predator last season. (Dawn Villella / AP)
Traverse City — Most of the wolves killed during the recent hunt in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula probably belonged to packs that have caused problems for people, which partially fulfilled a primary objective of the season even though fewer animals were shot than expected, state wildlife biologists say.
Twenty-three gray wolves died in the state’s first regulated hunt of the predator since the upper Great Lakes population was dropped from the federal endangered species list in 2012. The Department of Natural Resources had set a target of 43 wolves for the season, which ran from Nov. 15 through December.
But DNR officials told The Associated Press last week that 17 of the kills happened in places within known territories of packs with reputations for “conflicts,” a term that includes repeatedly attacking livestock or pets and exhibiting “fearless behavior” around people.
The places where wolves were shot were typically within 5 miles of a farm or other location where conflicts had occurred, said Adam Bump, a DNR fur-bearing animal specialist. It’s not a stretch to link the wolves with those places because packs frequently travel 10 to 20 miles daily, he said.
Together, the data suggest — but doesn’t guarantee — that most of the wolves taken were problem animals, Bump said. The agency had described reducing human-wolf clashes as justifying a hunt in places where other control measures, including allowing owners to shoot wolves assaulting livestock or pets, were proving inadequate.
“From my perspective, the first hunt with all the unknowns we had was a success,” he said. “I’d guess that virtually every person who hunted wolves had never hunted wolves before. They’re learning new techniques.”
But the findings did not convince groups opposed to wolf hunting, who are pushing ballot measures in the November election that they hope will prevent it from happening again in Michigan. Their leaders argued that farmers and dog owners already had legal authority to use lethal force against wolves attacking their animals under laws that took effect when wolves were stripped of federal protection.
“At no point did we see any thorough analysis by the DNR that this new system was not working before rushing into allowing an open season,” said Jill Fritz, state director of The Humane Society of the United States and the director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which is campaigning to end wolf hunting.
DNR statistics show a sharp drop-off in wolf depredation between 2012 and 2013. The number of attacks dropped from 43 to 20, while livestock deaths fell from 64 to 13. Those figures suggest lethal controls were succeeding and should have been given more time, said Nancy Warren, an Upper Peninsula resident and regional director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.