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Michigan's senators sparred Tuesday about whether gray wolves are endangering Upper Peninsula residents and domestic animals, while other officials prepared to try to separate fact from fiction regarding the animals' presence in the rest of the state.

On Tuesday, the Michigan Senate voted 26-12 to back a non-binding resolution asking for Congress' help to overturn a recent federal court ruling placing wolves back under the protections of an endangered species. Legislators also asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to appeal the court ruling.

It came as the Department of Natural Resources plans to conduct a survey from Monday through March 13 to establish how many wolves, if any, may be residing in the northern Lower Peninsula. This year's survey, which is performed every 24 months, comes at a time when the status of the wolf is as uncertain as any time in the last several years.

Meanwhile, national and state groups seeking to protect wolves from sanctioned hunts have adopted a new strategy. Groups like Keep Michigan Wolves Protected are backing efforts to have the animals listed as "threatened" and not "endangered."

Wolves have been off-limits for hunting for decades before a hunt was sanctioned in 2013 by state officials.

"This back and forth is going to keep happening over and over again," said Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. "Livestock lobbying groups are so powerful, they are just going to keep coming back and demanding wolves get de-listed."

Fritz said transitioning to a "threatened" status would allow state and federal agencies to pursue lethal measures in specific situations where intervention with wolves is necessary.

In Lansing Tuesday, elected officials skirmished over the wolves' endangered status with Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, squaring off with Republican Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba, the resolution's chief sponsor.

Warren said the resolution contains a clause falsely claiming the wolves "increasingly endanger people and domestic animals" in Michigan, when research hasn't uncovered "a single documented attack by gray wolves on a person — ever" in Michigan. While the resolution has no force of law, "facts should be accurate" when they're sent to Congress, she said.

Warren also said the resolution should call for a compromise in which wolves would be placed on "threatened," rather than "endangered" status. The move, Warren said, would permit some state measures necessary to deal with any wolf problems while also providing enough protection so the animals could continue to thrive.

But Casperson cited a recent case in which a wolf in Minnesota attacked a camper and another case in which a dog apparently was killed and eviscerated by wolves while an Upper Peninsula resident and his 8-year-old son were out hunting. He said it's lawmakers' job to protect the health and welfare of citizens, adding that the resolution is one way to counter a relentless effort by animal protection activists to prevent wolf hunting and wolf control measures.

Casperson said the federal judge in Washington based his decision on "emotion," not facts. The U.P. dog killing, he added, "is not an isolated case of what my constituents are dealing with."

Outside of a single animal killed in Presque Isle County in 2004, wolves have been almost exclusively a problem for the Upper Peninsula. Every year, however, reports come into the DNR of wolf sightings in the Lower Peninsula. To date, those reports have produced no physical evidence.

"All we've had in the past are photos that look like they could be wolves," said Jennifer Kleitch, a DNR wildlife biologist. "We've had reports of tracks that look like they could be wolves. But we don't have any genetic evidence that they're in the Lower Peninsula."

During the survey period, residents who believe they have seen evidence of a wolf are asked to contact the DNR's Gaylord office at (989) 732-3541 ext. 5901 or provide information at www.dnr.state.mi.us/wildlife/pubs/wolf_obsreport.asp.

jlynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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