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Michigan lawmakers consider opening door for a wolf hunting season

Gray wolf.
Tracy Brooks/Mission Wolf/USFWS
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Michigan's gray wolf population is estimated to be 687 animals. The recovery goal for the population is between 250-300 wolves.

Gray wolves in the Great Lakes region came off the endangered species list this past January.  There are about 700 wolves in Michigan now.  A decade ago, there were just under 300. 

Now, state lawmakers are considering legislation to make gray wolves a game species in Michigan. That would open the door to a possible hunting and trapping season for wolves.

Adam Bump is the Bear and Furbearer Specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  He says most of the wolves are in the western Upper Peninsula and that’s causing some conflicts with people.

“Wolves are something people are very passionate about one way or another. We have residents in the U.P. that would just as soon not see any wolves in the U.P. and would very much like to see a season, and to see wolf numbers reduced. We have others in the U.P. that I think would be very happy if we never implemented any harvest season and didn’t kill any wolves unless absolutely necessary.”

He says the DNR is supportive of making wolves a game species because it would give the agency another tool to manage the animals. 

State Representative Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine) introduced HB 5834 to make the gray wolf a game species. Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) introduced a similar bill (SB 1350) in the state Senate.

If either of these bills eventually pass, the state would have to take more steps to establish a hunting season.

“Then there has to be discussions at the department level with the Natural Resources Commission, with the public, do we want and need a hunt and if so, what would it look like?”

Wisconsin and Minnesota opened their first regulated wolf hunts this fall.  They’re controversial.  Environmental and animal welfare groups sued to try to stop the wolf hunts.  A number of tribes in the Great Lakes region also oppose the hunts.

Other groups argue that wolf hunting seasons are premature.  When wolves were delisted, the DNR was authorized to issue permits to landowners to kill wolves that have a history of preying on animals. 

Nancy Warren is with the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.  She points to a Michigan law that also allows people to kill a wolf in the act of attacking their pet or livestock.

“So we already have all these tools available and so we don’t feel the listing of the wolf as a game animal is needed at this time.”

Warren helped draft the state’s wolf management plan.  The plan went into effect when wolves were delisted.

“And we think we should allow the plan to run its course, allow the plan to be effective. Wolves were just delisted back in January so we’ve only been working with this plan for 10 months.”

The DNR says, so far this year, 25 wolves have been killed under permits or because they were in the act of attacking livestock or a pet.

Nancy Warren says her group’s concerned that the combination of these permitted wolf kills along with a hunting season could hurt the wolf population.

“Wolves are very territorial. Wolves are pack animals, so if you take out the alpha male or alpha female you could cause the entire pack to disband.  Depending on how the hunt is structured it could affect the population growth.”

But supporters of a wolf hunting season argue it would be carefully managed.

Kent Wood is the Legislative Affairs Manager with the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

“I would firmly believe that a regulated hunting and trapping season for wolves would be just that – it would be regulated.  And it would be the same thing: it would be looked at every year. You know, I think it’s also just sort of the same sort of false mindset that hunters want to get rid of these species. We don’t.  First and foremost the goal is conservation.”

He says the last thing his group wants to see is the wolf going back on the endangered species list.

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