By JOHN PEPIN
For The Daily News
MARQUETTE - At the second in a series of four Michigan Department of Natural Resources wolf management meetings in Marquette Wednesday, biologists detailed the agency's strategies, including what a recommendation for a wolf hunt would and would not likely include.
The roughly 75 attendees heard a DNR presentation on Upper Peninsula wolf history, management and the process for formulating a DNR recommendation to the Natural Resources Commission, which will make the final decision on whether a wolf hunt will occur in Michigan.
"We're going to continue to evaluate the need, the objectives and the use of public harvest as a management tool over the next few months," said DNR bear and furbearer specialist Adam Bump.
Part of that evaluation is incorporating the results of surveys conducted online and at the public meetings, along with questions and answers from the four sessions, helping DNR staff define public concerns and opinions.
"We're having these meetings in March so that we can incorporate all this input into our thought process and our decision-making," Bump said.
In addition to Wednesday's meeting in Marquette and Tuesday's session in Ironwood, where 270 people showed up, the DNR will also hold meetings this month in Gaylord and Lansing.
By mid-May, the DNR's recommendation should be available. In June, DNR staff will make a presentation to the NRC. The seven-member NRC could then vote on the wolf hunt issue in July.
Bump led the discussion Wednesday, with questions submitted on cards by audience members also answered by local DNR biologists Brian Roell and Dean Beyer. The biologists detailed several items that any DNR recommendation for a wolf hunt would not include.
"We're not going to jeopardize the long-term viability of the wolf population," Bump said. "We're committed to having wolves in the state of Michigan. We have no desire to threaten the viability of that population."
A wolf hunt would be used in a limited fashion as an additional tool to address problem wolves where non-lethal means have not been effective.
"We're not looking at implementing a season across the entire U.P., we're looking at targeting that to specific zones for specific objectives," Bump said.
Some of the non-lethal methods the DNR would continue to employ to resolve wolf conflicts include fencing, flagging, hazing and using donkeys, llamas and dogs as guard animals for livestock. Biologists said relocating problem wolves or putting them in zoos are not effective wolf management solutions.
"We would not allow things like aerial shooting, poisoning, hunting with dogs, those aren't things that we would even consider," Bump said. "They're not something that's on the table."
Since 2003, 85 wolves have been killed by state measures. The U.P. wolf population was surveyed at 577 in 2009; 557 in 2010 and 687 in 2011. About 40 wolves are currently radio-collared. A bi-annual wolf survey is currently ongoing, with results expected in April. Biologists said there is currently no wolf population known from the Lower Peninsula.
Bump said a limited wolf hunt may not significantly impact the region's wolf population.
"You may have such small local harvest areas that the population is able to absorb that level of mortality and not see an overall decline in the population throughout the U.P. at all," Bump said. "It's also possible that harvest doesn't need to be that high and the main way that we're resolving conflicts is just changing behavior through the fact that there's public harvest occurring in that area."
Roell said the objective of DNR wolf management and a potential wolf hunt is not to get lower numbers of wolves or reach a specific population goal, it's to resolve conflicts.
Bump said if a wolf hunt is recommended, management units for a hunt would be developed, defined by the objectives and wolf home range sizes.
"We know that a lot of times with these conflict issues there's specific packs that are causing problems and it makes sense, if we're going to allow harvest, that we would allow harvest within the entire territory of each one of those packs," Bump said.
Management units could include public and private lands. The recommendation would include hunting and perhaps trapping, but no lethal traps would be used, Bump said.
Roell said baiting and predator calls could be considered. He said there would not be orphaned wolf pups with a hunt because of the time of year it would be held. Beyer said pups are orphaned in nature and wolves have learned to adapt.
Roell said 66 percent of collared wolves die from human causes, with about 40 percent of those from illegal take. The average lifespan for a wolf is five years.
Biologists would like to see any recommendation for a hunt be very specific.
"It's pretty clear. We have this management unit. We want to do this in that management unit and this is how we think we're going to achieve it," Bump said. "So everyone can see what we're trying to do and everyone can watch, as we will, to see if we're able to achieve that management objective. If we don't then we're going to need to adapt and change things and see if we can try and resolve the issue that's occurring in that place."
Bump said he doesn't think the DNR is moving too fast in considering a possible wolf hunt. Wolves were delisted in January 2012. The effectiveness of control methods has been tested for years in Michigan. Wolves were reclassified as game species in Michigan in December.
Roell said court challenges and other delays slowed federal delisting, though wolves had previously met population goals.
"It's not that they were just viable a year ago," Roell said. "They've actually been long-recovered."