Louise Knott Ahern
An Upper Peninsula lawmaker has proposed Michigan’s first-ever modern day hunting season for gray wolves less than one year after the animals were removed from the federal endangered species list.
Many UP residents say a hunt is long overdue and that the wolf population has rebounded far beyond expectations and capacity.
However, the legislation is likely to face opposition from conservation groups and Indian tribes who fear wolves will once again be wiped out by overzealous harvesting.
House Bill 5834 was introduced Wednesday by Rep. Matt Huuki, a Republican from the Houghton area. He could not be reached for comment, but a supporter of the bill said UP residents — the only Michigan citizens who face wolves in the wild — want to regain some balance in the wolf population.
As the number of wolves has grown, so have problems with livestock being killed and animal encounters with people, said Gogebic County resident Andy Tingstad.
“The wolves have affected the ecosystem as we had enjoyed it,” said Tingstad, who has previously testified to the Michigan Senate about wolf issues. “I have a friend who raises cattle and has been losing calves consistently throughout the years. So if we have this hunting season, we can get the number of wolves down a bit and help the farmers out.”
Great Lakes gray wolves were placed on the endangered species list in 1973, when only six wolves were known to be living in Michigan. They were taken off the list eight months ago with an estimated population between 700 and 1,000 in the UP. That’s two to three times higher than original expectations.
Under Huuki’s bill, the state’s Natural Resources Commission would be in charge of establishing the rules of a hunt, including the length of the season and the number of hunting licenses to be granted.
That process may help ease the inevitable controversy, said Michelle Lute, a researcher at a Michigan State University program called Conservation Ethics of Wolf Management, by allowing the public to have a say in some of the points of contention.
Her group has studied public attitudes about wolves in Michigan and found that most residents are supportive of wolves but are not wholesale opposed to a hunt as a management tool.
“Some people are not going to be happy with any sort of hunt,” Lute said. “I think it comes down to values. People have very different values for wolves … and you can’t always find a middle ground.”
If Huuki’s bill is approved, Michigan would join its Great Lakes cousins, Minnesota and Wisconsin, in allowing residents to hunt the formerly protected species.
Wisconsin’s season begins Oct. 15 but has been plagued by controversy since its authorization in March. Just this week, a group of Chippewa Indian tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan wrote a letter asking for the hunt to be halted because wolves are spiritually significant to Indian tradition. The Humane Society of Wisconsin has also sued that state’s DNR over its allowance of the use of wolf-tracking dogs.
Minnesota’s hunt is separated into two seasons — one that begins in Nov. 3 to coincide with that state’s firearm deer season, and a second season from late November through January.
Tingstad said doing nothing is not an option. There are no known wolf attacks on humans in the Great Lakes, but many UP residents say wolves have begun encroaching too closely for comfort to their homes, schools and businesses.
“I don’t advocate killing off the whole bunch,” Tingstad said. “If you see one, they’re gorgeous. They move so smooth and soft. They’re pretty to watch. But I try to put human beings first in order of priority.”