Legislation could lead to wolf hunt

Lansing — As promised earlier this year (June 8 edition of Michigan Outdoor News), state Rep. Mike Huuki, a Republican from Houghton County, has introduced legislation that would pave the way for a wolf-hunting season in Michigan.

H.B. 5834 would add the gray wolf to the state’s list of game animals. It states, “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 bill also would establish a $100 fee for a resident wolf-hunting license, a $500 fee for a nonresident license, and a $4 application fee to cover the costs of an expected lottery drawing for licenses.

Early in 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed gray wolves in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota from the endangered species list. Minnesota, with an estimated wolf population of about 3,000 animals, and Wisconsin, with a population of more than 800 wolves, have both approved hunting seasons that are set begin this fall, although Wisconsin is in a court battle over the use of hounds to hunt wolves. And last week, two animal rights groups sued to halt Minnesota’s season.

Huuki told Michigan Outdoor News that he wanted to wait to introduce his legislation to ensure there would be no legal hurdles with the delisting.

“(Wolves are) fresh off the endangered species list and I wanted to let that settle down a little bit to keep the anti-hunting opponents from coming back and making a problem of delisting the wolf,” he said.

Now that the hurdle has apparently been cleared, he said he was comfortable introducing HB 5834.

“My bill does not set up a season, it only sets the wolf as a game animal,” Huuki said. “Then we would turn it over to the (Natural Resources Commission) to use sound science to set the dates and types of seasons.”

The bill currently is in the state House Committee on Natural Resources, Tourism and Outdoor Recreation, but has not yet been considered for movement. “The bill is in committee and we’ll have a hearing, hopefully, within the next couple of weeks,” Huuki said.

The first-term legislator said he has support for the bill in the House and Senate.

“Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) is an important person to work with on this legislation. He is chairman (of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes) on the Senate side, and he is aware of the wolf situation, especially with ranchers on the west side of the U.P.,” Huuki said.

“I think we have a good chance to move the bill through both houses, and we have administrative support from the DNR.”

Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason acknowledged that the DNR supports the use of hunting as a tool to manage the state’s wolf population, which hovers between 700 and 800 animals. Several problem wolves have been killed in recent years in the Upper Peninsula due to livestock predation.

“Conflict issues is something that is in our wolf management plan,” Mason said. “In fact, most of the animals we hunt in Michigan are for management purposes, so, yes, we do support the bill.”

Mason said that setting a season framework at this time would be premature and that his department is waiting to see what happens with the legislation. However, if it passes and wolves are added to the state’s list of game animals, the DNR would supply recommendations to help the Natural Resources Commission set the framework for a hunting season.

“We’ll have to see how everything goes. Right now, we don’t know what the season would look like,” Mason said. “We don’t know what the success rate would be, because, frankly, we haven’t had a wolf season before. Do we model it after hunts in western states? Do we hunt them during deer season when they sit on bait piles waiting (for deer)?”

Mason said a hunting season could help the DNR manage wolves, especially in areas of high depredation and other issues.

“We have hot spots. Gogebic County, for instance, has a depredation problem,” Mason said. “There are areas in the eastern U.P. where rabbit hunters have been running into wolf problems. We could use a hunt to see if it has a beneficial impact, to see if we could reduce some of those conflicts.”

Erin McDonough, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, said her organization also supports the prospects of a wolf hunt and has no concerns that the species would be over-harvested due to sport hunting, as some opposed to hunts in other states have suggested.

“Putting wolves on the game list is a good idea. It would also put them under the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which has proven to be successful for all other species of game animals that have been on that list for years,” McDonough said.

Although a wolf-trapping season was not mentioned specifically in the bill, McDonough said MUCC would support a trapping season.

“Trapping is defined under hunting in Michigan, so if wolves are moved to the game list, we would support a trapping season, as long as it has sound, scientific principles behind it,” she said.

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