Opponents of a wolf hunt set to begin in November say one farmer's poor livestock management led to the planned kill.
Nancy Warren is the Great Lakes regional director of the National Wolf Watcher Coalition. She lives in Ewen in the Upper Peninsula. That's about 10 miles from a farm where a large number of livestock kills were reported between 2010 and 2013. She wanted to find out why this particular farm was experiencing such a big problem with wolves.
Warren had to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Natural Resources. The DNR said no tally of wolf attacks was available for the region and denied her request.
So Warren filed an appeal, and in July she got the information she wanted.
Warren learned that cattle farmer John Koski reported 96 head of livestock were killed by wolves over a three-year period. She says that's 80 percent of the total of 120 livestock reported killed in the region during that time period.
"When you take out the Koski farm, there was very little depredation total," Warren says.
There were 11 farms on which wolf problems were reported. Most had only one incident, Warren says, and a couple farmers reported a few incidents, but "they're minuscule when you look at the whole picture."
Warren says DNR investigators found Koski does not live at the farm and did not provide proper care or water for his cattle and didn't remove dead animals. That, she says, could explain why wolves and other predators would frequent his property.
"So there is no human involvement, and I believe that contributes to depredation because wolves have a natural fear of people," Warren says.
The DNR reports also found that Koski has killed bears, bobcats and coyotes on his farm, which he is permitted to do if they are a threat to his livestock.
Warren says documents she received show the state provided Koski with three "guard" donkeys, which will bray loudly and chase away predators.
The reports show photographs of two donkeys found dead, covered in snow, one in a partially collapsed outbuilding and a second in a trailer. Investigators removed a third donkey because it was in poor condition.
The report also says "a pile of cattle" was found in an open machine shed.
The state also provided Koski with fencing so he could keep his cattle closer together, and to restrict cows from giving birth in areas in which they would be more vulnerable.
Warren says investigators found the fencing was never used and was no longer at Koski's farm."
"We are not looking at the core problem," Warren says. "It's difficult to reduce wolf populations when you have a producer who's not being receptive to lethal and non-lethal control."
She adds that Koski was paid for the livestock lost to wolves.
"He received a substantial amount of all the money paid within the unit," Warren says. "The total amount paid between 2010 and 2013 was $40,000. Koski received almost $33,000 of that."
The reimbursement for livestock lost to wolves comes from the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Warren says, who adds that the group Defenders of Wildlife sent a second check to Koski to make up for any difference in market value, depending on when the livestock were killed.
Nineteen wolves will be allowed to be harvested this year in Wolf Management Unit B, where Koski's farm is located; another 24 wolves could be killed in two other regions.
"What I think is happening, instead of looking at the facts, the decision was made there will be a hunt, and now they're trying to rationalize and come up with reasons for it," Warren says.
The state plans to sell 1,200 wolf-hunting licenses at $100 apiece on a first-come, first-served basis beginning Sept. 28. Non residents will pay $500 for a license.
Last winter, more than 250,000 Michigan residents signed petitions to put a ban on wolf hunting on the November 2014 ballot. But state lawmakers passed a second law circumventing the petition, which opened the door for this fall's hunt.
Now opponents are mounting another petition drive to stop the hunt, but organizers say it's unlikely they will be able to collect enough signatures in time to stop the wolf harvest.
There are fewer than 700 wolves in the Upper Peninsula. Michigan downlisted gray wolves from endangered to threatened status in 2002.