Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lethal option off table for Michigan wolf control

By JOHN PEPIN, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials have again resorted to a range of hazing techniques to deal with problem wolves, after federal officials recently curtailed the state’s ability to use lethal means of control. Earlier this year, Michigan and Wisconsin were issued damage control permits by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to use lethal measures to remove wolves depredating livestock.

But a recent federal court decision, granting a preliminary injunction to stop Wisconsin’s lethal control, has resulted in the Fish and Wildlife Service removing Michigan’s ability as well. “We still have the permit, but they took away the lethal control portion,” said Brian Roell, statewide wolf coordinator with the DNR in Marquette.

Gray wolves are currently federal endangered species and threatened species under Michigan law. Permits for managing endangered species are provided for under the Endangered Species Act. Under the wolf damage control program, permits are issued to the state, with control actions carried out by the DNR or USDA Wildlife Services, acting as an agent of the state. Under the federal permit, Michigan had been allowed to kill a maximum of 40 wolves until the permit expired in Dec. 31.

Since May, the state had killed seven wolves in Ontonagon and Iron counties. Officials had killed wolves when attempts to scare them off with numerous hazing devices ranging from shining bright lights to firing loud “cracker” shells had failed. Under the federal permit, wolves were only able to be killed after numerous conditions were met — ranging from verification wolves were involved in depredation to a conclusion being drawn that depredation at the site is likely to continue in the immediate future.

“Lethal control is one of those important things in the tool box we just don’t have anymore,” Roell said.

Meanwhile, state officials are concerned some citizens might begin killing problem wolves on their own. “That’s always a concern,” Roell said. “When they see that their state agency has been taken away a tool that we could use to control depredation, it certainly does open that door.”

Michigan currently has at least 434 wolves in the Upper Peninsula, up from an estimated 405 wolves counted in 2005. Since 1989, wolf populations have risen every year expect in 1997, when a small decline was noted.

Roell said the DNR wants those with wolf depredation problems to continue to contact the state for help. “We still have options and we’re trying to work with what we have,” Roell said.

Currently, state officials were not sure whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service planned to appeal the court injunction or wait as a separate process to take the wolf off endangered and threatened species lists in the Great Lakes Region continues. If that status shift was to occur for wolves, lethal control measures would again likely be allowed because the wolf would no longer be an endangered species.

Roell said he thinks the judge issuing the injunction based the decision on the fact the wolf is an endangered species and not the science behind the situation, documented by state officials. “To me, the judge didn’t look at any reports that the state wrote,” Roell said.

State and federal officials expect more lawsuits against using lethal control, even if the wolf is delisted.

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