By JOHN PEPIN
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE - A state bill aimed at designating gray wolves a game species and authorizing an open season in Michigan is on its way to the full Senate for consideration.
Senate Bill 1350 was introduced by state Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, in October and was reported out of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Thursday on a 5-2 vote, recommending that the bill be passed.
The legislation designates wolves as game species, authorizes establishment of the first open season for wolf and allows the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to issue orders establishing wolf hunting seasons throughout the state.
The NRC would also dictate methods of take, bag limits and other provisions of wolf hunting or trapping seasons.
"The sound management of wolf populations in this state is necessary, including the use of hunting as a management tool, to minimize negative human and wolf encounters and to prevent wolves from threatening or harming humans, livestock and pets," the legislation reads.
Casperson's bill would establish a $100 fee for a resident wolf hunting license and $500 for a non-resident license. The bill also allows the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to establish a $4 application fee for wolf hunting licenses.
Casperson, who is chair-man of the Senate committee, took testimony from 15 people Thursday morning, some of whom were in the hearing chamber in Lansing, and others who appeared via a videoconferencing link with Gogebic Community College in Ironwood.
Of those testifying, 10 supported the bill, five opposed. Another eight people in favor and four opposed submitted cards, but did not testify at the hearing.
Dawn Levey of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs said wolves have reached targeted population goals.
"It is time to designate the wolf as a game species," Levey said.
Dennis Ellos of Ironwood said "the subject of wolves is the No. 1 topic with citizen sportsmen." He said he's not against wolves, but he said statistics show deer populations have dipped 60 to 70 percent.
"We are experiencing the poorest hunting and harvesting in the Upper Peninsula since the late '60s," Ellos said. "It's time for the state of Michigan to stop spending money on the wolves and start making money on the wolves."
He warned of game depredation now that wolves have reached the Lower Peninsula.
"They will ravage your prized elk herd," Ellos said. "They love elk calves."
Jill Fritz, Michigan state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said the gray wolf is still recovering and occupies only five percent of its historic geographic U.S. range.
"Because of this, post-delisting management of Michigan wolves should be undertaken with great caution," Fritz said. "Instead of rushing headlong into an open season on wolves, our state's principal goal should now be the implementation of its management plan, which advises the use of non-lethal controls, education and scientific research."
Dan Perrotti said the DNR killed eight "city wolves" in Ironwood recently which had lost their fear of humans.
"They were looking at my neighbor kids," Perrotti said. "We have too many (wolves). They're not acting right."
Nancy Warren, Great Lakes regional director for the National Wolfwatcher Coalition in Ewen, said since wolves were taken off the Endangered Species List nine months ago, at least 25 wolves have been legally killed by the DNR, including the eight wolves Perotti talked about.
"The wolves were attracted to a residential area by persons feeding deer and the wolves were killed as a proactive measure; no one was threatened by the wolves," Warren said.
Fritz was among those who said the state's Guidelines for Lethal Control of Wolves by Livestock and Dog Owners in Michigan allow farmers and dog owners to kill wolves when non-lethal measures prove ineffective.
"Farmers are compensated for verified losses caused by wolves, and a grant is available to provide non-lethal deterrence measures to reduce depredations," Fritz said. "These measures should be sufficient to deal with problem wolves, yet still allow the wolf population to continue its recovery."
She said a Wolf Management Roundtable did not recommend reducing numbers of wolves across a broad geographic area as a way to reduce conflicts, but rather address problems on a case-by-case basis.
Casperson said, "They are in isolated pocketed areas and that's why we're running into some of the problems we've been having."
Harold Melton said he opposes the proposed fees for the hunt and said those killing wolves should be able to keep the pelts.
Al Clemens said he's been hunting for 55 years, but has not bought a deer hunting license in three years because the deer are "almost gone" where he hunts.
"The U.P. needs a bounty on wolves, at minimum the wolf season needs to be open during deer season; bag limits should be generous," Clemens said. "Hunting them hard is something that is long overdue. Are you listening Michigan?"
Jacqueline Winkowski of Gwinn said she and her dogs have had several encounters with wolves, with no detrimental effects.
"They're not aggressive toward people," Winkowski said. "The interactions I've had with them, they're just curious."
Fritz said the DNR's management plan suggests a wolf hunt may be developed if it is biologically defensible, legally feasible and supported by the public.
"Is it any of those things?" Fritz asked rhetorically.
Casperson said if his bill is approved, the NRC will take up the question of whether to authorize a hunt.
"My hope is the NRC will hold hearings on this so that everybody can weigh in with them," Casperson said.
A bill similar to Casperson's was introduced last month into the state House by Rep. Matt Huuki, R-Atlantic Mine. Wolf hunts have been established and are currently open in Wisconsin and Minnesota.