gray wolf

State Senate passes bill that could lead to gray wolf hunting season

Nov 30, 2012
USFWS

A controversial piece of legislation that would make the gray wolf a game species has passed the Michigan Senate.

The bill, introduced by Escanaba Republican Tom Casperson, paves the way for a possible hunting and trapping seasons for wolves.

If the bill becomes law, the state’s Natural Resources Commission would be allowed to determine if a hunt were needed.

There are nearly 700 wolves in Michigan today, up from under 300 just a decade ago. The wolves, removed from the endangered species list this past January, are concentrated in the western Upper Peninsula.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

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Bills move forward to make gray wolf a game species

The Michigan Senate has approved a bill that would designate the gray wolf as a game species. The bill gives the Natural Resources Commission authority to decide whether to establish wolf hunting seasons. As the Detroit Free Press reports,

"The wolves were removed from the endangered species list in January, but only the DNR is allowed to manage the wolf population, which has begun to encroach upon U.P. towns, according to residents. The animals also are having a big impact on the U.P.'s deer population, killing between 17,000 and 29,000 deer every year, according to a report from the DNR."

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USFWS Midwest

We reported last week that Michigan lawmakers are considering legislation to make gray wolves a game species (State Representative Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine) introduced HB 5834. Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) introduced a similar bill (SB 1350) in the state Senate). These bills would make it possible to have a hunting and trapping season for wolves. 

SB 1350 cleared a Senate committee late last week.  It now moves to the full Senate. 

But a number of tribes in Michigan are opposed to a wolf hunt and that could hold the process up. 

Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

Gray wolves in the Great Lakes region came off the endangered species list this past January.  There are about 700 wolves in Michigan now.  A decade ago, there were just under 300. 

Now, state lawmakers are considering legislation to make gray wolves a game species in Michigan. That would open the door to a possible hunting and trapping season for wolves.

Adam Bump is the Bear and Furbearer Specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  He says most of the wolves are in the western Upper Peninsula and that’s causing some conflicts with people.

Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

Gray wolves in the western Great Lakes were recently taken off the endangered species list. Now, the state of Michigan is responsible for managing the wolf population.

Michael Nelson is a professor of environmental ethics at Michigan State University. He’s an author of a new report on people’s attitudes about wolves in Michigan. His report is based on a statewide telephone survey conducted in 2010. 

Nelson says they asked people throughout the state how they felt about the following four statements (on a five point scale from strongly disagree to strongly agree):

  1. "I enjoy knowing wolves exist in Michigan."
  2. "I would be likely to purchase a license to hunt or trap wolves."
  3. "The decision to hunt wolves should be made by public vote."
  4. "Wolves should only be hunted if biologists believe the wolf population can sustain a hunt."

Michael Nelson says overall, Michiganders tend to value wolves.

"Generally, we found out that people enjoy knowing there are wolves in Michigan. This varies from place to place. We also found out that in general, the people of Michigan really support wildlife biology, wildlife science as an important way to make decisions about wolves."

But he says people’s feelings about wolves change based on where they live in the state.

Gray wolves in Michigan are no longer on the federal government’s endangered species list.

The decision shifts the responsibility for managing wolves to Michigan wildlife officials.

It also means that farmers and pet owners can shoot wolves that attack livestock or dogs.

Ed Golder is with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“The important thing here is that people have greater power to address issues with wolves and we certainly want to help with that,” Golder said. “We encourage people to find non-lethal means to deal with wolves and we are available for consultation on that, but where these particular instances are occurring with livestock and with dogs, people have some power that they didn’t have before.”

Even though wolves in Michigan have been removed from the federal endangered species list, Golder said wolves remain on the state's “protected species” list -- and it is still illegal to hunt or trap wolves that don’t pose an immediate threat to dogs or livestock.

The gray wolf was once nearly extinct in the Upper Midwest. There are now nearly a thousand gray wolves in Michigan, mostly in the Upper Peninsula.

*Correction - an earlier version of this story said "wolves remain on Michigan’s “threatened species” list." The animals remain on the state's protected species list. The copy has been corrected above.

The federal government says gray wolves in the Great Lakes states are no longer endangered, and they can come off the endangered species list. If that happens, the state would be in charge of managing the wolves.

The Department of Natural Resources is holding a forum in Marquette tomorrow. The DNR’s inviting everyone from the farm bureau to conservation and hunting groups. The agency wants these groups to weigh in on the state’s wolf management plan.

Christopher Hoving is with the DNR. He says the plan would allow officials to shoot problem wolves. For example... if a wolf kills a cow or a sheep.

“It’s not something we like to do or want to do, but we can’t have that behavior of killing sheep be spread throughout the population.”

He says under the state plan, Michigan residents can also kill a wolf that’s attacking their livestock or pets.

Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS

At the moment, the federal government manages the gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. But federal officials say the wolves in these states are doing great, and they want to hand management over to the states.

This isn’t the first time federal officials have tried to take wolves off the endangered species list. Wolves were delisted in 2007... but that delisting was challenged in court by some environmental groups. And wolves were put back on the list.

Some members of Congress are trying to make sure these kinds of lawsuits don’t happen again.

Candice Miller represents Michigan’s 10th district. It’s in the Thumb. She just introduced a bill that would amend the Endangered Species Act... and remove wolves from the list. Her bill would make it more difficult for anybody to sue over that decision.

“You have a number of anti-hunting groups and they constantly tie these decisions up in court. I think this legislation is a huge tool to be used so the courts don’t have these things happening.”

She says her office has been approached by sportsmen and farmers worried about wolves preying on deer, moose and livestock.

Michigan’s wolf management plan does not call for a hunting season for wolves. The state legislature would have to decide that.

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