ESCANABA - Gray wolves could soon be considered a game animal in the U.P. and by next year, Michigan could be issuing wolf hunting licenses.
Last January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the gray wolves in the western Great Lakes region from the Threatened and Endangered Species List. Wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and portions of adjoining states are now under the regulation of each state's government.
On Aug. 15, Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine, introduced a bill that would add the gray wolf to the list of huntable game. In early October, Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, introduced a similar measure, Senate Bill 1350, which would designate wolves as a game animal and authorize the Natural Resources Commission to establish a game season.
Casperson is chair of the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee.
According to a press release from Casperson, the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee will convene Thursday to hear testimony on establishing a wolf hunt (see related story).
"I see no reason not to have a hunt sometime in 2013," Casperson told MLive.com in October.
By itself, the bill will not establish a wolf hunt.
"In Michigan, the first step that needs to happen is the reclassification of wolves as a game species," said Debbie Munson Badini, deputy public information officer for the Department of Natural Resources.
According to Badini, If the bill passes and wolves are reclassified as a game species, the Natural Resources Commission - a seven-person board appointed by the governor - will take public comment on the issue and have the option to establish a wolf hunting season.
"The DNR does not actually set the regulations," noted Badini, adding the NRC does take DNR input into consideration.
Both Wisconsin and Minnesota have already implemented hunts. Wisconsin's first wolf hunt began on Oct. 15 and will run until Feb. 28. The Minnesota hunt begins today and will continue until Jan. 31, with a break between the early and late seasons in mid-November.
"We don't think there would be a hunt in Michigan until next year," said Badini.
If the presented bill becomes law and the NRC establishes a wolf hunt, wolf licenses in Michigan would be $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. There may also be a $4 application fee for each person who requests a wolf license.
Much of the drive for a legal wolf hunt in Michigan comes concern over how an increase in the wolf population could affect deer populations in the Upper Peninsula.
According to the Michigan DNR, there are around 270,000 deer in the Upper Peninsula. A population of 687 adult wolves - the estimated Michigan wolf population last year - could eat between 17,000 and 29,000 deer.
For comparison, hunters and car accidents kill around 64,000 deer a year, and a severe winter can kill off as much as 30 percent of the deer population.
The threat of harm to livestock and pets has also prompted call for a wolf hunt. While farmers and pet owners are allowed to kill wolves in certain circumstances, some believe that the laws do not go far enough.
Currently, if a dog is being attacked by a wolf, the owner may kill the wolf. The kill must be reported to the DNR within 12 hours and the wolf carcass cannot be moved from the location until a DNR official can inspect the area. DNR officials will also inspect the dog that was attacked.
Farmers follow a similar procedure, however they may move the wolf carcass after photographs have been taken if the carcass will interfere with normal farm operations.
The hunt cannot be started until after the NRC has considered the opinions of hunters, farmers, pet owners and other residents. "There will be ample opportunity for public comment," said Badini.