Canceled wolf hunt draws no howls
The state's recent decision that there will be no wolf hunt in Michigan this year is getting mixed reactions, despite fear in the Upper Peninsula about the predators.
Many U.P. residents have been alarmed by the estimated 636 gray wolves in Michigan and their attacks on game animals, domestic animals and pets. Last year's Nov. 15-Dec. 31 hunt was the first in Michigan in 40 years and resulted in 22 wolves being killed in the U.P., a little more than half of the state target of 43.
But the Michigan Natural Resources Commission decided more than a week ago that it won't hold a wolf hunt this year, even if voters uphold two state laws that allow wolf hunting by approving two referendums on the Nov. 4 ballot. The state's wolf population is down from 658 in 2013 and 687 in 2012, but up significantly from 20 in 1992.
"Even if the referendums are passed, there would not be time to establish a wolf hunt in 2014," said Commissioner John Matonich.
For many who favor a wolf hunt, like officials with the Upper Peninsula Sportsman's Alliance, there is comfort in knowing the decision will eventually be based on science and not emotions at the polls. President Tony Demboski said he believes science is on his side.
"We'll have a wolf hunt next year," he said last week. "There's no doubt in my mind."
The latest development also doesn't faze Lester Livermore, a 46-year-old resident of the U.P. community of Naubinway who favors state-sanctioned hunting of the predator.
"Ranchers, farmers and hunters are the new wolf management team and the consensus is, they need to be thinned," said Livermore, a sobriety court coordinator and chairman of the Mackinac County Road Commission.
"People proudly talk about how many they have shot and nobody cares. So Lansing can twist and turn on the issue, but Yoopers just see that as proof that they are right to take things into their own hands."
A state Department of Natural Resources spokesman said the sentiment for illegal killing of wolves exists in the Upper Peninsula, acknowledging the agency annually investigates "a handful of instances" in which wolves are illegally killed.
But it is a misperception that the state isn't doing enough because there are other ways to manage wolves besides the state-approved hunt, he said.
"Under state law, wolves attacking livestock or dogs may be legally killed," DNR spokesman Ed Golder said in an email.
"The DNR can also issue lethal control permits to farmers who are experiencing documented issues with depredation. Additionally, consistent with the state's wolf management plan, our biologists provide assistance with implementation of nonlethal control techniques, and when there are instances of repeated nuisance or depredation reports, we can respond with targeted lethal control."
Golder urges residents not to poach wolves.
"Any reports of poaching activity will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," he said. "We appreciate cooperation from the public in reporting possible poaching activity and also reporting any wolf conflict so the DNR can respond effectively."
Current wolf hunting laws are frozen until voters get a crack at them, meaning a wolf hunt couldn't have been scheduled until after Nov. 4.
The referendums will ask voters to endorse or overturn Legislature-passed 2012 and 2013 laws permitting wolf hunting. A "yes" vote will be a vote in favor of wolf hunting. A "no" vote will be a vote against wolf hunting.
"Michigan wolves have been spared an unnecessary and inhumane hunt this year for one reason: The laws allowing them to be hunted have been put on hold because of our two referendum campaigns," said Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.
"If citizens vote 'no' on both referendums in the November election, they can restore non-game status for our state's wolves and uphold the right of Michigan voters to have a say on wildlife issues."
But a new citizen-initiated law that takes effect in March or April would allow wolf hunting to continue even if voters reject two current laws allowing such hunts. The new law allows the Natural Resources Commission, made up of gubernatorial appointees, to decide which animals can be hunted as game and requires $1 million a year in state funds to battle Great Lakes invasive species such as Asian carp, as well as free hunting and fishing licenses for members of the military.
Drew YoungeDyke, grassroots and public relations manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs and Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, said earlier this month the pro-hunting coalition doesn't plan to spend money campaigning against the two wolf referendums.
He said the coalition is satisfied with a new citizen-initiated law that will take effect in 2015 and let wolf hunting resume.
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which is pushing the two anti-hunting ballot measures, plans to challenge the new law, passed late last month, because it believes the petition language violated a single-issue constitutional requirement for citizen initiatives.