By JOHN FLESHER, AP Environmental Writer

TRAVERSE CITY (AP) – Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill Wednesday that clears the way to schedule Michigan’s first gray wolf hunting season since the resurgent predator was driven to the brink of extinction in the lower 48 states a half-century ago.

The measure lets the state Natural Resources Commission decide which types of animals can be hunted – authority that previously rested entirely with the Legislature. The seven-member commission could vote Thursday on a proposal by state wildlife regulators for a season this fall in which up to 43 wolves could be killed – about 7 percent of the 658 believed to roam the Upper Peninsula.

“This action helps ensure sound scientific and biological principles guide decisions about management of game in Michigan,” Snyder said. “Scientifically managed hunts are essential to successful wildlife management and bolstering abundant, healthy and thriving populations.”

The new law is a blow to opponents, who have gathered more than 250,000 petition signatures seeking a statewide referendum on a measure approved in December that designated the wolf as a game species. If officials determine that enough of them are valid, the issue will be placed on the 2014 election ballot.

Now, the vote would be only a symbolic gesture. Regardless of the outcome, the commission will have the power to allow wolf hunting.

The panel was discussing the matter Wednesday during its monthly meeting in Roscommon and could make a decision Thursday. An opposition coalition called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected urged commissioners to wait until voters have had their say next year.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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