NRC considers new wolf hunt

MARQUETTE – If the Michigan Natural Resources Commission plans to offer a wolf hunt this year, it will have to decide to do so by its July meeting.

Currently, Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials are working to analyze data being collected from last fall’s wolf hunt, the first organized in Michigan. That information is expected to be brought before the NRC in May or June.

The panel would then decide whether to again offer wolf hunting and under what rules and regulations.

“You have to set it by the July (NRC) meeting to get it into the (hunting) guide and everything for fall,” said DNR spokeswoman Debbie Munson-Badini.

DNR Director Keith Creagh said “We would anticipate the commission being on that type of a schedule.”

A total of 1,200 hunters were licensed to hunt wolves from Nov. 15 through Dec. 31. A total kill quota of 43 wolves was in place. Hunters did not reach the quota, killing a total of 23 wolves from three Upper Peninsula wolf management zones.

The bag limit was one wolf per hunter for the season. No trapping was allowed. The hunt was designed to lessen wolf conflicts with animals and humans in areas where non-lethal methods to deter wolves had not been successful.

Creagh characterized the hunt as “highly successful.”

“Forty-three was a target, it wasn’t a given,” Creagh said. “The intent of the hunt was not to adversely impact the overall population. We were convinced we didn’t do that.”

Creagh said the DNR has already learned some things from the experience.

“Roughly 77 percent of the wolves that were shot were within a perimeter where we were having conflict, either livestock or human,” Creagh said. “We learned that the hunters didn’t necessarily always have the skills to hunt wolves, it’s a little bit different than hunting predators, they became pretty elusive.”

Some additional issues being analyzed include whether the right number of hunters was involved.

“The data is still out, they’re doing all that data crunching,” Creagh said. “But, from my perspective, we had a successful hunt. We had hunters reporting their kills. We had some people that shot wolves outside the area, and those individuals self-reported, and so I think it shows that hunters are trying to do the right thing and I think it shows that hunters can be a tool in managing wolves.”

DNR wildlife biologist Brian Roell said three wolves were killed illegally in the U.P. during the hunting time period, two in Gogebic County and one in Luce County. Those wolves were not included in the hunt’s kill total.

Two of the shooters in those poaching incidents reported they had shot wolves outside of the hunting zones. One of the hunters had a wolf hunting license, the other didn’t. Both were ticketed for illegal taking of wildlife, Roell said.

The third illegal wolf killing, which was from Gogebic County, remains unsolved. The three wolf poaching incidents were among 14 for the 2013 calendar year, a number Roell said was about average.

Creagh said it’s premature to say whether the hunt impacted the behavior of wolf packs, will reduce depredation, or what the long-term result will be.

Creagh was asked whether it was a good idea to offer the wolf and deer hunts simultaneously.

“That’s a great question. I know that we had people in the woods and so that was successful,” Creagh said. “And I know with talking with hunters very specifically, they chose not to shoot a wolf because it was interrupting their deer hunting. So if success was actually shooting a wolf, then probably that wasn’t the exact right opener. If success is getting people in the woods, then we were successful. So, I think part of that is beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

A follow-up survey is being done with wolf hunters.

“We’ll ask them all those behavioral questions: How long were you in the woods? What was your success? What needs to be changed? And so we’ll be informed and work with the commission as they set those dates, so that we can make the best decisions,” Creagh said.

Creagh said trapping was a topic of conversation.

“Your success, your number of animals harvested, I think, without a doubt, would go up if you integrated trapping into the situation,” Creagh said. “And I think the commission will look at all methods of take as they move that along.”

However, Creagh thinks it’s “premature” to decide whether trapping should be allowed in any future wolf hunt until there’s data analysis.

“Is it always available? Yes. Is it something that is a done deal? No,” Creagh said. “I think that that’s part of the process, conversation.”

Creagh was asked whether there’s a social acceptance level for trapping, as there is for wolves.

“Trapping is always a conversation around the social acceptance, as is hunting, as is being if you’re a vegetarian or a meat-eater, I mean there’s all social aspects along that. Right? And so there’s a number of different views,” Creagh said. “I think that as you move along, the question may be: Is there another way to engage trappers, maybe to target specific nuisance animals a little bit more directly? And so I think that as we continue to look at the tools, I think we need to be open to all the tools without saying with any certainty, here’s the only tools.”