Speer: Wolf hunt a new chapter for Michigan

For the first time in Michigan’s history wolf licenses will go on sale today at noon.

However, if you’re willing to fork out $100 for a license, I suggest you purchase one quickly as only 1,200 will be available for purchase.

This year’s season runs from Nov. 15 through Dec. 31, although there is a limit for the three hunting zones of the Upper Peninsula. Should the quota in a zone be reached before Dec. 31, hunting in that zone would end. Department of Natural Resources officials have set this year’s total at 43 wolves.

Hunters need to be aware the hunt is not without controversy. Many conservation groups are opposed to the hunt and some of these groups’ members could take to the woods themselves in an effort to disrupt hunting as best they can.

For instance in August the group Earth First! released information to the media that it was making public a manual on how to sabotage wolf hunts such as Michigan’s. According to its release the manual, titled “The Earth First! Wolf Hunting Sabotage Manual” includes “step-by-step graphics, explains how to find and destroy wolf traps, handle live trapped wolves in order to release them, and various methods – including the use of air-compressed horns and smoke bombs, for stopping wolf hunts.”

A major concern of that group focused on trapping wolves. That concern does not exist in Michigan, however, as Natural Resources Commission members considered trapping, but decided against it here.

While wolves were placed on the Endangered Species Act in 1973, recovery efforts for them have proven successful and in 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed them from that list, paving the way for events such as this year’s historic hunt.

Two other Midwest states, Wisconsin and Minnesota, held hunts last year. Based on their experiences that first year, with or without protesters in the woods hunting for wolves will be a challenge. Both of those states offered hunters the opportunity to trap. Firearms hunters there were only 4 percent successful, while trappers were 25 percent.

It is estimated 650 or so wolves reside in Michigan.

Of interest to hunters and animal rights groups here is what took place in Minnesota this summer. There state officials basically cut in half the number of licenses available from last year after surveys indicated a drop in wolf numbers in that state. Last year the quota was 400 wolves, while this year it is only 220. There, it is estimated 2,211 wolves roam the state.

DNR officials in Michigan will be closely monitoring the wolf hunt, reactions of residents and hunters in the impacted areas and the numbers of wolves here. Already this summer DNR officials indicated that like Minnesota, wolf numbers on Isle Royale had decreased. While DNR officials in both states believe a reduction in the food source as the contributing factor to the decline, Isle Royale is obviously different because it is a “closed society” in terms of wolf population given its geography.

Thus, while the Isle Royale population is obviously significant and of interest, what is happening there doesn’t necessarily translate to what could happen elsewhere with Michigan’s wolves.

I believe all of us aren’t quite sure what to expect from the first hunt, but are anxious to find out. Ultimately, I would hope it will prove as valuable as the elk hunt as a means of scientifically managing an important species in our state.