MARQUETTE - The anti-wolf hunting coalition Keep Michigan Wolves Protected alleged Wednesday that poor animal care and negligent behavior on an Ontonagon County cattle farm skewed statistics used by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to justify establishing the state's first wolf hunt this fall.
In a news release, the coalition said February 2013 documents obtained under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act detailed a DNR investigation into activities on a farm in Matchwood owned by John Koski. The coalition said the farm "was used as a major justification for the 2013 wolf hunting season."
DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell in Marquette said Koski's farm was only one farm considered. He said the coalition's conclusion is "based on a small subsection of what is going on in wolf depredation."
A gray wolf. (AP Photo)
Since 2010, 80 livestock depredation events have been documented from 11 farms in the wolf management unit where Koski's farm is located, the DNR said. The unit includes Ontonagon and Baraga counties and parts of Houghton County.
"(In) none of the hunt areas did we look at a single farm or a single incident and they're just ignoring those facts," Roell said. "Even if you pull his farm out of the equation you've still got 10 other farms with depredation in the management unit."
A total of 43 wolves may be killed during the November hunt from three wolf management units set up in the Upper Peninsula. The farm is located in Wolf Management Unit B, where 19 wolves may be killed during the hunt to meet the management objective of reducing the number of chronic livestock depredations.
The coalition news release said Koski failed to use $4,000 of non-lethal wolf deterrent means - including fencing and guard donkeys - provided by the DNR and that the DNR investigation found Koski allowed two of the donkeys to die and a third was removed because of extremely poor health because of a lack of care.
"The DNR also found that Koski failed to provide proper care and water for his own cattle and left carcasses on his property to attract predators, in violation of the state's Bodies of Dead Animals Act," the coalition said.
"One negligent farmer who refused to use the fences and guard donkeys given to him for free by the state cannot be held up as the poster child for Michigan's wolf hunt," said Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. "The true intent of the wolf hunt in Michigan has nothing to do with livestock conflicts. It is purely to satisfy a vocal minority who just want a trophy hunt."
Dr. James Averill, state veterinarian within the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development's Animal Industry Division, said the DNR received a tip the donkeys on Koski's farm were in poor condition - thin with hooves not trimmed.
"Our first and foremost goal is to bring the person into compliance," Averill said.
Roell confirmed two donkeys did die on the farm and another was removed. He said no law requires farmers to use non-lethal methods to deter wolves.
"His farming practices were not breaking laws," Roell said, not defending the activities.
Averill said Koski had a donkey and a cow not buried within the proper time period. He was warned about the carcasses and he complied, making improvements, Roell said. No tickets were issued for any violations.
An animal control officer followed up on the complaints.
"We've never seen any concerns with the cattle," Averill said.
The coalition said DNR statistics of confirmed livestock losses from wolves in WMU B showed "an astoundingly high percentage in recent years occurred on the Koski farm."
From 2010 to 2013, 73 percent (57 of 78) of wolf conflicts with livestock occurred on the Koski farm along with 80 percent (96 of 120) of individual livestock confirmed killed by wolves; 82 percent ($32,936 of $40,098.51) of all compensation for livestock lost to wolves has gone to the Koski farm; and 64.4 percent (96 of 149) of the cattle killed by wolves in the entire U.P. in the past 3 years have been on the Koski farm.
"If this one irresponsible farmer is removed from the overall statistics of confirmed wolf losses on livestock in the area of WMU B in the past 3 years, the actual amount of livestock losses due to wolves is minimal and cannot justify a wolf hunt," the coalition news release stated. "Since 2010, Koski's farm was one of only 11 U.P. farms that experienced any confirmed wolf losses. The few isolated remaining incidents of wolves taking livestock can be - and are already- managed through non-lethal measures and individually-directed lethal control of problem wolves under existing state law. What's more, so far in 2013, not one farm in WMU B has experienced a confirmed wolf loss."
Roell did not contest the Koski depredation statistics quoted by the coalition.
"Yes, Koski's numbers are atrocious. He has had problems on his farm," Roell said. "But the numbers are real."
However, he said despite lethal and non-lethal control measures, four depredations have occurred on four farms this year in WMU B, contrary to coalition claims.
Roell said the DNR was looking at the "bigger picture" of depredation in creating the wolf management units for the hunt.
Russ Mason, DNR wildlife division chief in Lansing, agreed saying the division "used a step-by-step process to evaluate current and past wolf depredation events in the Upper Peninsula."
"The fact is, more than two dozen farms in Wolf Management Unit B have experienced livestock loss to wolves, with 11 farms affected in the past three years," Mason said. "Michigan's wolf hunting season is designed to reduce these wolf-related conflicts in targeted zones."
The wolf hunt will begin Nov. 15. A total of 1,200 wolf licenses will be available for purchase beginning Sept. 28 at noon EDT until Oct. 31, or earlier if the 1,200 licenses sell out before that time. Wolf licenses will cost $100 for residents and $500 for nonresidents. The bag limit will be one wolf per hunter, per season. Trapping will not be allowed.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.