MARQUETTE - Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill late Friday reclassifying gray wolves as a game species and authorizing the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to establish a hunting season for the once endangered species in Michigan.
"Wolves have made a dramatic recovery in Michigan with a current population around 700 animals, with almost all of that population residing in the central and western Upper Peninsula," said state Sen. Tom Casperson, who introduced the Senate bill Snyder signed. "Wolves need to be managed along with other species, and management strategies should include the option of a game season."
The NRC, the seven-member appointed rulemaking body for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, is now able to issue orders establishing wolf hunting seasons in the state. The NRC would also dictate methods of take, bag limits and other provisions of wolf hunting or trapping seasons.
"The Department of Natural Resources now agrees that a game season is needed as part of the approach to manage wolves," Casperson said. "As season parameters are developed with the potential for a hunt in the fall of 2013, I will help ensure that U.P. residents who actually live where the wolves are at are included and heard."
The Humane Society of the United States was disappointed with Snyder's signing of the legislation.
"Wolves have been on the protected list in Michigan for nearly 50 years. With fewer than 700 wolves in Michigan, it's not right to spend decades bringing the wolf back from the brink of extinction only to turn around and allow them to be killed for sport," said Jill Fritz, Michigan state director for the HSUS.
Great Lakes region gray wolves were removed from the federal Endangered and Threatened Species list in January, with management returned to the states of Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Hunting seasons have already been established in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
Fritz said it is already legal in Michigan to kill wolves that threaten livestock or dogs, making a trophy hunting season unnecessary.
"People don't eat wolves, and they would be killed just for fun and trophies," Fritz said. "Sport hunting of these rare creatures is unnecessary, especially when the wolf population is just starting to recover."
In 2008, the Michigan Legislature approved laws that took effect earlier this year with delisting. Those laws allow livestock or dog owners, or their designated agents, to remove, capture or, if deemed necessary, use lethal means to destroy a wolf that is "in the act of preying upon" (attempting to kill or injure) the owner's livestock or dogs.
Illegally killing a wolf is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, along with reimbursing the state for the cost of prosecution.
"With wolf numbers far-exceeding population goals, I hear growing concerns of the impacts they are having on people's lives and businesses," Casperson said. "Residents across the Upper Peninsula have repeatedly asked for a game season to help control the wolf population, reduce livestock and pet depredation and enhance public safety."
In addition to the hunting bill, Casperson also sponsored Senate Bill 996 (PA 487 of 2012), which builds upon those provisions in current law to ensure livestock owners receive fair and timely compensation for animals killed by wolves, coyotes or cougars.
Casperson said that in recent years, farmers have expressed frustration with the growing number of livestock they lose to wolves and the delay in compensation received from the state.
Under the new law, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will reimburse claimants 100 percent of the fair market value of livestock, not to exceed $4,000 per animal or $100,000 per incident. If the department does not make payment to the livestock owner within 45 days of the claim, the recipient is entitled to twice the amount of the original claim.
The HSUS and The Fund for Animals have said they will file suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore federal protections for Great Lakes wolves under the Endangered Species Act.