DETROIT (AP) - The Michigan Natural Resources Commission on Thursday again approved hunting of once-federally protected wolves in the Upper Peninsula under a new state law passed to circumvent a referendum on an earlier hunting law.
The commission voted for a hunt that runs Nov. 15 through Dec. 31. It allows the killing of up to 43 gray wolves in seven counties. The hunt follows last year's removal of wolves from the federal endangered species list based on their recovery in the upper Great Lakes and Rocky Mountains regions.
Wolves once roamed across Michigan and most of the lower 48 states, but were nearly wiped out in the last century. After they were placed on the federal endangered species list in 1974, a remnant population in Minnesota began expanding and gradually migrated to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where the predator has flourished.
A recent census by the state Department of Natural Resources put the population at 658.
"We anticipate that this limited public harvest could both change wolf behavior over time - making them more wary of people, residential areas and farms - and reduce the abundance of wolves in these management areas that have experienced chronic problems," DNR Wildlife Division Chief Russ Mason said in a statement. "We're aiming to decrease the number of conflicts and complaints while maintaining the long-term viability of the wolf population."
The commission also approved a wolf hunt in May, but a petition drive for a referendum put the decision on hold.
The Legislature then passed a second law authorizing the commission to schedule a wolf hunt.
The group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected said it was "deeply disappointed" by the commission's decision. The group earlier submitted petitions for a November 2014 referendum on the earlier wolf hunt law.
"The voters of Michigan - not politicians and bureaucrats - should have their voices heard on whether our state's fragile wolf population is needlessly hunted for trophies," group Director Jill Fritz said in a statement. "The NRC should have delayed a decision until the November 2014 election and let the democratic process play out as intended. Instead they have thumbed their noses at Michigan voters and told them their opinions don't matter."
The group submitted ballot language for state approval July 2 and said it plans to collect at least 225,000 signatures to place the new law under which the commission approved the hunt Thursday on the November 2014 ballot as well.