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Possible Michigan wolf hunt sparks debate locally

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April 03, 2013 - Jason Bradley, 39, is a Groveland Township resident and has hunted bear across the Upper Peninsula since 2006, bagging three over that period near the village of Bessemer in Gogebic County in the western section.

Bradley encountered a grey wolf during a September 2011 hunt.

"On my way out to my bait pile, a grey wolf was watching me. He was pretty far away when I first saw him. But he was watching me—I'd say he was looking for a free meal. He came closer very slowly, within 15 yards. He even tried to make eye contact. The wolf was acting sneaky, pacing back and forth, not to mention it would be dark in about two hours. My concern was there could be 20 more wolves nearby. He was just standing there looking at me."

Bradley harvested a bear that same afternoon. By the time he located the downed bear, a wolf had torn about 25 percent of the hide off the underside of the 160-pound animal.

"Wolves are a common element during Upper Peninsula hunts," he said.

Bradley is just one of many Michigan residents with interest in a controversy after a Michigan wolf hunt became a possibility in 2012 when they came off the endangered species list and were placed in state control. The state House and Senate passed legislation listing wolves as a game species in Michigan. After Gov. Rick Snyder signed the law, the door was opened to a future wolf hunt. As a result the Department of Natural Resources and the Natural Resources Commission began establishing the framework for the season.

However, the wolf hunt has sparked debate among several groups statewide.

The group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected submitted 253,705 signatures to the Secretary of State's office. When the petition is certified, it will place any plans for wolf hunting on hold until voters can decide in November 2014.

Locally, Eileen Drenikowski, a member of the "Keep Michigan Wolves Protected," campaigned in Ortonville, collecting signatures at the Ortonville Coffee Club which meets from 7:30 - 9 a.m. each Wednesday at the Brandon Township Library. In total, she collected more than 700 signatures in Brandon Township and the Clarkston area.

"I volunteered on behalf of the Detroit Audubon Society and the Michigan Humane Society, who both endorsed the campaign," she said. "I became aware of the issue in January 2013 and had an opportunity to speak to religious groups and business functions—I estimate that about 95 percent wanted to sign. I hope the wolf management system can be improved over the next year-and-a-half so we don't have to resort to trophy hunting of the wolf."

"Why can't we relocate some of the wolves? Also, it's my understanding that a predator population, like the wolf, will regulate itself naturally depending on the food sources available. My other concern is that trophy hunters will go after the wolf populations in areas whether they are a problem or not. Some communities in the Upper Peninsula don't have a wolf issue. Moreover, there are just too few wolves, the population is just too low. Their habitats are declining and they avoid humans whenever possible. Hunters have signed my petition, too. I'm not against hunting; however, I do not support the hunting of wolves."

Drenikowski added the driving force that prompted the campaign was the process was circumvented by lawmakers not waiting two years after the delisting of the wolf.

"The legislators passed the bill to turn the wolf into a game species without discussion or public hearing," she said.

Ed Golder, Michigan Department of Natural Resources public information officer, said several factors will be considered before a designated wolf hunt is established.

"Federal delisting criteria required a combined Michigan/Wisconsin population of 100 wolves for five consecutive years for delisting to occur," said Golder "The Michigan/Wisconsin combined population has exceeded 100 wolves every year since 1994, and currently numbers more than 1,000 wolves with about 700 alone primarily in the Upper Peninsula."

"If the ban on wolf hunting is voted in and makes them not unhuntable it would limit the ability to scientifically manage the population," he added.

Golder said that on April 11 there will be a recommendation from the Department of Natural Resources to the Natural Resources Commission, regarding how the wolf hunt could be structured. Then on May 9 there will be a decision regarding the harvest, said Golder.

"At that time a method and type of hunt along with limits would be set. This will not be a trophy hunt. They will follow a wolf management plan, created over a three year period—many Michigan groups were at the table when that plan was outlined. The hunt will be a tool used where (wolf) conflict is concerned, where wolves encroach too close to humans. Those sort of conflicts are where a hunt could be beneficial."

Golden suggested issuing a very limited number of permits based on populations of wolves.

"It's not like Gov. Snyder signs the legislation and it becomes open season on wolves," he said. "It's not like that at all. The framework hasn't been established yet. There will be limits like there is with every hunting season," he said.

Local hunter Bradley would support a wolf hunt.

"You'd be surprised the number of wolf signs you see while hunting," he said. "Every mud hole near water or lakeshore or river bank has wolf tracks. Wolves stake out water where animals come and drink. The also show up on trail cameras hunters use."

As a hunter Bradley suggests the wolf population has devastated the elk and deer populations.

"The calves, fawns and bear cub population is way down in the Upper Peninsula due to the wolf," he added. "There should have been a wolf hunt ten years ago. The population should be kept in check."

Bradley is planning a wolf hunt to Ontario later this fall.

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