By John Flesher, AP Environmental Writer
TRAVERSE CITY (AP) – State wildlife regulators will propose letting hunters kill several dozen gray wolves this fall in three sections of the Upper Peninsula where other methods have failed to prevent attacks on livestock and pets, a Department of Natural Resources official said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, a state legislator introduced a bill that might allow a hunt even if a majority of voters oppose it in a statewide referendum.
The DNR plan would allow hunters to pursue wolves in Michigan for the first time since the predator was added to the endangered species list in 1974, when it was nearly extinct in the lower 48 states. Federal protections were removed last year for wolves in the western Great Lakes region, where they have recovered strongly and totaled more than 4,000 – including about 680 in Michigan – before winter hunts in Minnesota and Wisconsin killed a combined 530 animals.
The DNR is scheduled to present its plan Thursday to the Natural Resources Commission, which sets hunting policies for Michigan. The seven-member panel, whose members are appointed by the governor, could make a decision at its May 9 meeting.
A DNR memo to the commission calls for a hunting and trapping season throughout November and December. It would reduce wolf numbers by about one-fifth in the targeted areas and 5 percent across the entire Upper Peninsula, said Adam Bump, a DNR biologist. But in the long run, it’s not expected to reduce the peninsula-wide population to a greater extent than would happen from natural causes, he said.
“It’s going to look the same,” Bump said. “We’re looking at a very minimal harvest level.”
One zone where hunting would take place includes the city of Ironwood and an adjacent township in the far western Upper Peninsula. The second includes parts of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties. The third includes portions of Luce and Mackinac counties on the eastern side of the peninsula.
Bump said complaints about wolves have persisted in those areas despite repeated and varied efforts to chase them away. Even giving farmers permission to shoot wolves attacking their livestock hasn’t worked, he said.
Hunting eventually could make wolves “more wary of people, residential areas and farms,” the DNR memo said.
Opponents have gathered more than 240,000 petition signatures favoring repeal of a law enacted in December that designated the wolf as a game species, a necessary step before it could be hunted. A referendum could be scheduled for the 2014 general election if officials rule that enough of the signatures are valid.
But state Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba Republican and sponsor of the game species bill, introduced a measure this week authorizing the Natural Resources Commission, in addition to the Legislature, to designate game species. Yet only the Legislature could remove such a designation.
So if voters nullify the new law that placed the wolf on the game species list, the commission could return the wolf to the list – and only lawmakers could take it off.
Casperson’s latest bill also would appropriate $1 million for game and fish management, which would inoculate it from being overturned by voters. Under state law, appropriations bills are not subject to a referendum.
Groups opposing wolf hunts accused Casperson of trying to subvert majority rule.
“This is an unprecedented power grab,” said Jill Fritz, director of a coalition called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said the bill could allow the commission to reverse a 2006 statewide vote that ended hunting of mourning doves.
“And it won’t stop there,” Pacelle said. “Sandhill cranes and other rare wildlife species – and perhaps even feral cats, as was proposed in neighboring Wisconsin – could be listed by the hunter-dominated commission as game animals.”
Casperson said Michigan voters expressed their will in 1996 by giving the commission exclusive authority to regulate taking of game animals, based on scientific analysis. He said the wolf referendum is being engineered by out-of-state animal rights groups that spent millions of dollars hiring people to gather signatures.
“Sportsmen have a right to be very concerned when you have a national group trying to take away our ability to have a hunt,” said Casperson, chairman of the Senate’s natural resources committee, which is scheduled to conduct a hearing on the measure Thursday.
Fritz said some professionals had distributed petitions, but so did 2,000 volunteers.
Erin McDonough, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said Casperson’s bill was “a positive step for ensuring that Michigan’s wildlife resources are managed properly and that Michigan’s hunting, fishing and trapping heritage is protected.”
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