MARQUETTE - The Michigan Natural Resources Commission is expected to decide Thursday whether to approve provisions of a wolf hunt recommendation that was presented last month by division chiefs of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The NRC's seven appointees will meet in downstate Roscommon. Before the panel votes, the commission's Policy Committee on Wildlife and Fisheries will hear presentations Wednesday from wolf experts.
Scheduled to speak are William VanderZouwen of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Dan Stark of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Wisconsin and Minnesota both held wolf hunts this past winter.
Written testimony from outside experts will also be read into the record. Those contributing include Rolf Peterson who has extensively studied wolves on Isle Royale and David Mech of the U.S. Geological Survey, another prominent wolf expert.
DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason said he will read the testimony aloud if either Mech or Peterson does not attend the meeting.
The DNR chiefs' recommendation was recently revised to include the latest wolf population winter survey results, which showed the minimum number of wolves in the Upper Peninsula had dipped from 687 in 2012 to 658 this year.
DNR bear and furbearer specialist Adam Bump said biologists think there could be several reasons for the decrease, including some stabilization of the population.
"It's within our confidence level," Bump said. "It's within the error rate that we expect. It's not a significant decline."
In addition to the population level, the local densities of wolves have shifted a little bit, prompting adjustments to the wolf management zone proposals, Bump said.
The total number wolves recommended for a hunt is 43, down from 47 previously proposed. The objectives of the hunt are to reduce the numbers of nuisance wolf complaints and chronic livestock and dog depredations.
DNR officials defined three wolf management units where public hunting could begin Nov. 1 and end Dec. 31, unless harvest quotas were reached sooner. In each unit, a different wolf management objective was set. The season limit recommendation is one wolf per licensed hunter.
Over time, the DNR has said hunting could change the behavior of wolves, making them more wary of people, residential areas and farms. A reduction in wolves displaying fearless behavior would reduce the number of nuisance wolf complaints. Hunting could also reduce the abundance of wolves in the management units, which may result in fewer conflicts.
For each wolf management unit, different primary objectives were identified, along with recommended harvest quotas:
- Wolf Management Unit A: A portion of Gogebic County, including the city of Ironwood and the encompassing township. Unit quota: Originally 21 wolves, now 16. Objective: reduce nuisance wolf complaints, which have totaled 91 since 2010.
- Wolf Management Unit B: Portions of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties. Unit quota: Originally 18 wolves, now 19. Objective: Reduce the number of chronic livestock depredations. Since 2010, 80 livestock depredation events have been documented from 11 farms.
- Wolf Management Unit C: Portions of Luce and Mackinac counties. Unit quota: 8 wolves. Objective: Reduce the number of chronic livestock and dog depredations. Since 2010, the DNR recorded 25 livestock depredation events from seven farms and four depredation events involving 12 dogs.
Bump said if the NRC approves the recommendation it will then be "an approved system for harvest" of wolves.
DNR officials would then wait to see how political developments unfold, including the results of signature verification for a statewide ballot initiative aimed at reversing a law signed in December reclassifying wolves as game species in Michigan.
If the initiative is approved to go before voters, no wolf hunt could occur until after the referendum is decided.
Meanwhile, a bill is headed to Gov. Rick Snyder's office that was approved in the state Legislature last week, which would give the NRC and the Legislature the only authority to list animals as game species, and with only the Legislature able to remove them from the list.
If the ballot initiative is approved by voters, the new legislation Snyder will consider could see wolves added to the games species list and a hunt authorized by the NRC and then only the Legislature could remove them.