MARQUETTE - Legislation reclassifying gray wolves as a game species is on its way to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's desk.
The measure, which could one day lead to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission allowing a wolf hunt in Michigan, won final state Legislature approval early today. Senate Bill 1350 was introduced by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, in October. A similar measure was introduced in the House by Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine.
The legislation passed today designates wolves as game species, authorizes establishment of the first open season for wolf and allows the NRC 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.
Casperson said the NRC would take up the question of whether to authorize a hunt.
"I think it ultimately is going to go in that direction (of establishing a hunt), but not as some would say as a full-blown hunt, I think it's going to be very limited," Casperson said.
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.
Wolves remain a protected non-game species in Michigan and residents can only kill the animals under limited, specific and controlled circumstances.
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 dog.
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.
"The sound management of wolf populations in this state is necessary, including the use of hunting as a management tool, to minimize negative human and wolf encounters and to prevent wolves from threatening or harming humans, livestock and pets," Casperson's legislation read.
The bill establishes a $100 fee for a resident wolf hunting license and $500 for a non-resident license and allows the DNR to establish a $4 application fee for wolf hunting licenses.
J.R. Richardson of Ontonagon, the NRC's new chairman, said in a meeting Thursday the panel will be guided by a management plan the department put together with advice from groups representing interests such as hunting, animal welfare, environmental protection and farming.
Richardson requested an update on the wolf's status in January and said the commission would continue consulting with the public, including Indian tribal governments that fought the game species bills and contend there isn't enough scientific evidence to justify hunts. Wolves have a cherished status in many tribes' spiritual traditions.
"If a bill delegating authority to create a hunt is signed into law, it will be up to the commission to lay out a socially responsible framework for population management on a limited basis to help resolve conflicts in specific areas," Richardson said.
The Humane Society of the United States urged Snyder to veto the bill, saying Michigan's wolves are "just starting to recover."
"It's not right to spend decades protecting wolves from extinction only to turn around and allow them to be killed for sport," state director Jill Fritz said.
Casperson said the governor is expected to sign the bill, which also establishes a Wolf Advisory Council that would include representatives from the DNR, tribal government and agricultural interests, as well as conservation, animal advocacy and hunting organizations.
The council would report annually to the NRC and the Legislature, making non-binding recommendations as to the proper management of wolves in the state.
Wolf hunts were established and are under way in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.