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MI: House bill would put gray wolf under DNR control

Brandon Hubbard

A bill introduced Thursday into the U.S. House of Representatives could potentially transfer authority of the Michigan gray wolf population from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Limiting the gray wolf population in the Upper Peninsula has been a constant issue for lawmakers both in Michigan and Washington, D.C., since the population was listed as endangered.

Once prevalent through Michigan’s 83 counties, the gray wolf was killed off by a state-paid bounty and predator control in the early 20th century — almost nonexistant by 1960 when the state bounty was repealed. In 1992, the total state population was estimated by the department at 20 animals. But, the population has grown in recent years and was estimated in 2009 to be near 577 animals in Michigan.

To address growing concerns by farmers and sportsmen about the population threatening live stock and deer populations, in May, Fish and Wildlife Service officials and the Department of the Interior recommended the gray wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have recovered and should be removed from the endangered list.

Congressman Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, introduced the “State Management of Recovered Wolves Act” to allow the state of Michigan to control its gray wolf population.

“After hearing from concerned constituents, farmers, pet owners and sportsmen, I have become deeply troubled by the threat wolves pose to 1st District residents,” Benishek, a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said in a statement. It’s not the first time lawmakers have attempted to either allow local controls or delist the gray wolf from the endangered list. In 2009, a group of Michigan lawmakers — including Benishek’s 2012 political opponent Gary McDowell, D-Rudyard — introduced similar legislation to delist the gray wolf population to allow the DNR to take control. However, the bill failed to have an impact at the federal level.

Benishek introduced similar legislation as an amendment to the Endgangered Species Act of 1973 earlier this year. Public comments were sought through the summer and a decision is expected by the end of 2011.