Wolf hunt the leading story of 2013 outdoors

HOUGHTON – The first wolf hunting season in recent Michigan history made headlines throughout 2013.

As of earlier this week, the total of wolves taken in the hunt, which included three zones in the U.P., was 21, not even half of the quota established by the DNR and roughly three percent of the statewide population of 658 it estimated at the beginning of the season on Nov. 15.

An unusual cold snap that persisted through much of early December dampened the outlook for the hunt, which will end on Tuesday regardless of the number of wolves taken.

In April, the state recommended a hunt and licenses went on sale in late September.

The step was the source of considerable controversy and political wrangling.

Once a petition drive of 255,000 signatures triggered a referendum to suspend the hunt and place the decision on the November 2014 ballot, the state legislature moved in May to make that question moot by giving the Natural Resources Commission authority to set game species.

In November, reported the resolution introduced into the legislature by former state Rep. Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine) and current Sen. Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) to remove wolves’ protected status in Michigan back in 2011 included a story about wolves prowling at an Ironwood-area home daycare that proved to be false and that a preponderance of wolf predation reports originated from a single farm in southern Ontonagon County.

On the other hand, arguers in favor of the wolf hunt note the role of out-of-state animal rights groups, particularly the Humane Society of the United States, and believe the state’s wolf count is inaccurately low.

Many pro-hunt voices believe wolves have led to a decline in the deer herd, but after a below-average firearm deer season in November, the impact of a snowy and persistent winter of 2012-13 was undeniable.

The number of deer being brought to U.P. check stations was down by 30 percent or more from the year before.

In September, a bill to revamp the DNR license system and increase many fees was made law.

The law is expected to generate $18 million annually for the DNR, trim the number of hunting and fishing licenses sold from 227 to 42 and, unlike several recent efforts to raise license fees since they were last hiked 17 years ago, had wide-ranging support from conservation groups.

The legislature also approved a bill this year creating a fund to support promotional efforts for hunting and fishing.