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Posted: Nov 28 2006, 09:30 AM
Member No.: 1
Joined: 10-July 06
Federal protection of canine may end
BY SHERI McWHIRTER
GAYLORD — Michigan's federally protected gray wolf population may migrate to state oversight by spring, a bureaucratic shift that ultimately could pit pro-hunting groups against those who want to safeguard the reclusive canine.
Already, discussion over a state firearms season for wolves exposed a deep divide in the Michigan Wolf Management Roundtable, a group charged with offering advice for a state wolf management plan.
The advisory group included farmers, hunters, scientists, conservationists, environmentalists and tribal representatives. Their opinions will guide the state's new wolf policies, said Brian Roell, wolf coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Gray wolves will become the responsibility of the DNR if the federal government delists wolves as a threatened, endangered species in four months, as proposed this year by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
An updated state wolf plan will assume that wolves eventually will be delisted, Roell said.
The impending switch from federal to state management is because of increasing wolf numbers in the state's Upper Peninsula, where more than 400 wolves are believed to exist.
Recreational or sport hunting was the only issue the roundtable could not agree on for Michigan's wolf population; some supported hunting, while others vehemently opposed the notion.
"There are a lot of value questions to consider,” said R. Ben Peyton, group facilitator and professor at Michigan State University. "The group grappled with using hunting even as a management tool.”
Cull of the wild?
Merle Shepard, a spokesman for the Michigan Chapters of Safari Club International, was involved in the state's wolf group. He said thousands of hunters likely would love a shot at hunting Michigan wolves.
"Our perspective is that the wolf is a game animal and it should be managed the same way as other animals, just like deer, bear or elk,” Shepard said. "If you just manage an animal when it becomes a problem, the public views it as a nuisance, not a game animal. The wolf deserves better than that.”
Michigan was home to only a dozen wolves just over a decade ago, so any talk of a recreational hunting season is premature, said Marvin Roberson of the Sierra Club.
"The Sierra Club is not an anti-hunting group. However, we certainly oppose the hunting of wolves in Michigan,” Roberson said.
The DNR's Roell said any potential recreational hunting season for gray wolves is years away, with many bureaucratic and legal obstacles in between. Both federal and state governments would have to delist wolves as a threatened species, followed by a five-year waiting period. State officials would have to reclassify wolves as a game species, likely followed by a statewide referendum at the polls and many legal challenges along the way, Roell said.
"I think it would get voted down even bigger than the doves,” Roell said, referring to state voters' recent trouncing of a proposal to create a hunting season for mourning doves. "There probably won't be a wolf hunting season anytime soon.”
But potential new state rules could allow wolves to be shot and killed by licensed hunters and trappers on a case-by-case basis when there are wolf conflicts with livestock, a growing problem in the Upper Peninsula. Additionally, private landowners may be allowed to shoot and kill wolves caught killing and eating livestock, but not be reimbursed for losses unless they follow suggested practices to reduce such conflicts.
"Farmers, particularly in the U.P., have experienced what you might expect with an increase in wolf population. There's been an increase in the losses of livestock to those wolves,” said Robert Anderson of the Michigan Farm Bureau, which also participated in the wolf group.
However, non-lethal methods to address those conflicts should be exhausted before any wolf is killed, said Cynthia Radcliffe of the National Wildlife Federation and member of the wolf roundtable.
The roundtable group's report states that wolf-dog hybrids can negatively affect the wild wolf population and lead to wolves being illegally kept in captivity for breeding purposes. Potential legal punishment for people who intentionally habituate wolves, or make them accustomed to humans, also was suggested by the wolf group.
"People need to take responsibility for their own behavior in wolf country,” Radcliffe said.