MARQUETTE - The sale of 1,200 licenses for the state's first wolf hunt got off to a brisk start Saturday, with Michigan Natural Resources officials reporting smooth operations and those who sought to purchase tags at DNR offices across the state being successful in their attempts.
"Every office had wildlife staff and law staff there available for questions," said Brian Roell, a DNR wildlife biologist at the Marquette field office. "We didn't know what to expect really. We were prepared for everything."
A total of more than 1,100 licenses was sold by 5 p.m. Saturday, when DNR offices closed. Licenses will be sold statewide through Oct. 31 -unless the tags sell out the total of 1,200 sooner- at a cost of $100 for residents and $500 for non-residents. Licenses can be purchased at select DNR offices, regular license dealers and online.
Robert Finkbeiner, left and state Rep. John Kivela, both of Marquette, get their wolf hunting licenses Saturday afternoon at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Field Office in Marquette. In five hours Saturday, the DNR sold more than 1,100 of the 1,200 total licenses available statewide.
A wolf hunting license tag purchased Saturday by state Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette. The state plans to sell a total of 1,200 licenses by Oct. 31. (Journal photo by John Pepin)
The hunting season in three designated wolf management units in the Upper Peninsula begins Nov. 15.
Each hunter may kill no more than one wolf. The wolf kill will be limited to a total of 43 animals from the three hunting units. Hunters with license tags may hunt in any of the three management units.
At the DNR field office in Marquette, four hunters were in line when licenses went on sale at noon Saturday. All four got a tag. By 12:05 p.m., 583 tags had been sold across the state.
State Rep. John Kivela, D-Marquette, was among the first four hunters to buy a license at the Marquette DNR office.
"I expected them to be flying off the shelves pretty fast," Kivela said. "So I got in line with a few other folks here and was lucky to get one."
Kivela said he's been involved with the wolf hunting issue since he took office in January.
"This whole process, I think it's the right thing to do, it's about proper wildlife management and whether or not I actually make it out in the woods, I wanted to be a part of it," Kivela said.
Robert Finkbeiner of Marquette also bought a tag at the Marquette DNR office.
"I buy licenses every year, I hardly ever shoot anything," Finkbeiner said.
Finkbeiner, a local attorney, said his wife's family owns land in Gogebic County. One of the three wolf hunting units is situated there.
"If I go up there during the period, at least if I want to go out I'll be able to," Finkbeiner said. "I haven't decided whether I'm going to hunt seriously or not yet."
By 12:40 p.m., 940 wolf hunting licenses had been sold statewide. Of those sales, the DNR reported two-thirds were from hunters buying tags in person. The remaining third were online sales.
"It went real smoothly, they didn't sell out as fast as I was anticipating, although it does sounds like its very close," Roell said. "The license sale terminal worked perfect. I was worried we may not even sell one here (at the Marquette DNR office), but everybody got one."
Roell said the state's July decision to delay the start of the wolf hunting sales to make sure the computer system was working properly and offices were properly staffed paid off.
"There was some real concern," Roell said. "With our antlerless tags we saw the system really slow down and bog down. We had some difficulties and so it looked like delaying that time they got the bugs out."
Those tags that did sell Saturday sold quickly and efficiently.
"It was really quiet," Roell said. "I was expecting possibly some protesters, I didn't know how many people were going to be lined up here, but everything was smooth. We had six to eight telephone questions about how to buy a license, most of them were pretty easy questions."
Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, said the anti-wolf-hunting coalition marked the day by having ballot petition signature collectors each gather at least 43 signatures Saturday, one for each of the 43 wolves to be targeted during the fall wolf hunt.
"That was kind of symbolic. People are collecting signatures all over the state from Houghton to Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie," Fritz said. "The main goal is to qualify our referendum for the November 2014 ballot."
The referendum is aimed at overturning the law that allowed the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to designate wolves as a game species and only allows the NRC to remove them from that games species list - making the ballot proposal moot.
The coalition had worked previously to get a referendum on the ballot to block a law that paved the way for the wolf hunt. That law was circumvented by the later legislation, which passed in December.
"This hunt is going to happen only because the Legislature did an end run on that popular referendum," Fritz said.
Beyond signature gathering, the coalition "did not encourage any kind of protest" for Saturday's license sale start, Fritz said.
DNR officials said some sold licenses may be voided or canceled before the Oct. 31 sales deadline. Those licenses will be returned to the license buying pool and made available for purchase. Hunters wanting to buy a license - after any potential sell out - were advised to periodically check the license system online for availability.
Only those who have a previous hunting license (not apprentice) or a hunter safety certificate, and who will be at least 10 years old by the start of the season can buy a wolf hunting license. It is against the law to purchase or obtain more than one wolf hunting license.
Wolf hunt digests are available for download online at www.michigan.gov/dnrdigests or from DNR offices. The guides include all the wolf hunt regulations, maps of the hunting units and other pertinent information.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org