Thursday, March 09, 2006

DNR wolf collar recovered from the Munuscong River

By SCOTT BRAND/The Evening News

PICKFORD - The recovery of a working wolf collar in the Munuscong River by a team of divers on Tuesday has prompted the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to open a criminal investigation into this matter.

Conservation Officer Mike Bailey with the DNR's Law Enforcement Division is the lead investigator in this incident and said the condition of the collar effectively rules out an accidental death.

“The collar had been cut,” said Bailey. “We're pretty sure it's foul play, because it has been severed.”

In December, a research plane was flying over the Eastern Upper Peninsula to track the collared animals when a mortality signal was picked up just south of Pickford. DNR officials attempted to locate the wolf remains to determine the cause of death but when investigators pinpointed the location of the signal, it was coming from the Munuscong River near the M-129 Bridge just south of Pickford.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is offering a yet-to-be-determined cash reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for killing the wolf. Anyone with information regarding this matter is asked to contact the Report All Poaching hotline at 1-800-292-7800 and leave any tips or leads for Conservation Officer Mike Bailey.

The investigation remained in limbo, due to hazardous ice conditions until the Michigan State Police dive team recovered the transmission device on Tuesday during a 20-minute operation. The carcass has not been recovered and authorities do not know what killed the wolf, but the cut marks on the collar lead them to believe that someone went out of their way to hide evidence of a crime.

Wildlife Habitat Biologist Kristie Sitar, working out of the DNR's Newberry Field Office, said this collar was placed on a female wolf in May of 2004. The radio collars are good for a minimum of three years, so the crime runs deeper than just the loss of this particular animal as it also leaves a hole of approximately two years in the research that could have been gained from tracking her movements and activities.

“She was an adult in good shape,” said Sitar, adding the wolf was raising pups last summer.

Bailey said one of those pups was found dead last month in a field approximately a mile south of Taylor Road. The pathology laboratory at Michigan State University determined the younger animal died from injuries sustained when it was struck by a motor vehicle.

The return of wolves to the Upper Peninsula has met with mixed reaction from the general public. In the farming community, there have been numerous complaints regarding livestock loss with reports of sheep, chickens, turkeys and cattle all falling prey to the wolf. Some sportsmen have likewise identified the wolf as taking a huge toll on local deer herd numbers, while others don't seem to mind sharing their hunting grounds with the animals.

Many other residents and visitors to the region do not have any reservations regarding the return of the wolf, and are actively working to maintain or even increase their numbers throughout the Upper Peninsula.

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