MARQUETTE - Legislative efforts have begun to allow wolves to be hunted in Michigan, with a bill introduced by state Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine - an idea supported by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Huuki's bill (H.B. 5834) was introduced Wednesday and was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation. It would make wolves a game species and would authorize establishment of the first open season for gray wolf. The Michigan Natural Resources Commission is authorized to issue orders and establish a gray wolf hunting season throughout the state under the bill.
Huuki said in the bill that the Legislature "finds and declares that the wildlife populations of the state and their habitat are of paramount importance to the citizens of this state.
"The sound scientific management of gray wolf populations in this state is necessary, including the use of hunting as a management tool, to minimize human and gray wolf encounters and to prevent gray wolves from threatening or harming humans, livestock and pets," the legislation reads.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Director Keith Creagh visited with western Upper Peninsula farmers this week and visited a farm where wolf depredation of farm animals has been occurring.
"We've got it at both ends of the peninsula so it doesn't matter whether you're in Engadine or if you're over in Bessemer or that area, we're having problems," Creagh said.
Wolves were removed from the federal threatened and endangered species list recently and management was turned over to states and tribes based on established wolf management plans in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wolves remain a protected non-game species in Michigan and cannot be hunted.
"There was a broad-based Wolf Management Plan put together by a comprehensive set of scientists and stakeholders that actually has a thoughtful and deliberate plan to manage wolves," Creagh said. "We're not starting from ground zero. So they already know how to do it. They already know how they can put another tool in the tool box. So this actually shouldn't take a lot of time."
The one issue the stakeholder team developing Michigan's Wolf Management Plan did not come to a consensus on was hunting of the animals.
"They did come to consensus that you were going to have to control them when they got to become nuisances," Creagh said. "At the end of the day, there's going to be a method of take and it's the DNR's opinion that you ought to be able to utilize hunters to help with depredation complaints in nuisance areas."
Under the plan, the state is allowed to kill a select number of problem wolves each year.
"Right now, we're using Wildlife Services to shoot wolves at night," Creagh said. "It seems to me we ought to be able to make them a game species, utilize hunters and opportunities to help with the depredation challenge."
But Creagh said Michigan will need to do that differently than Wisconsin, where lawmakers recently established a hunt.
"For instance, Wisconsin right now is in court because they use dogs around wolves and they're being sued about dog fighting," Creagh said. "In this state, because of Proposal G, that's really the Natural Resources Commission and DNR's responsibility, not the Legislature's responsibility to be prescriptive in method of take."
Creagh said the DNR will use several refined methods to address wolf problems.
"So we'll work with the Legislature to look at wolves being a game species and then, history shows that if you make it a game species, it actually helps manage that so that you have that species around," Creagh said. "And then we'll utilize hunters to help with depredation, and then we'll put risk management on farms. We'll try to solve the problem in a more holistic manner than this piecemeal approach where we're paying indemnification, we're hiring shooters to shoot wolves and we're not solving the problem."
If Huuki's legislation is successful, the NRC would establish hunting seasons, harvest methods, bag limits and other provisions of a hunt. Huuki's bill states a wolf hunting license fee for a Michigan resident would be $100 and $500 for non-residents. The bill also allows the DNR to establish a nonrefundable application fee not to exceed $4 for each person who applies for a wolf hunting license.