Wednesday, December 06, 2006

U.P. wolf killings probed

By SCOTT SWANSON, Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — At least six wolves have been killed in the western Upper Peninsula since the beginning of firearm deer season.

Prosecution is pending against hunters in three of the incidents, while investigations are ongoing in two others, according to an official with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A sixth animal was killed by other wolves, the official said.

In addition to a $1,500 restitution fee, a person found guilty of killing a wolf — a federally endangered species — faces up to 90 days in prison, a fee of $100 to $1,000 and a loss of hunting privileges at the discretion of the court, said Lt. Tom Courchaine of the Crystal Falls DNR office.

“You think you’re out in the middle of nowhere, but there are a lot of clues out there,” he said. “Especially during deer season, when there are a lot of eyes and ears out in the woods.”

Prosecution is pending against individuals who allegedly killed wolves near Trout Creek in Ontonagon County, southern Iron County and Dickinson County, Courchaine said.

The DNR is still investigating a wolf killed in northern Iron County, although a preliminary investigation indicated that it was shot, Courchaine said. The investigation of a wolf killed on tribal land in Baraga County is being handled by the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community.

And a wolf found dead near Ewen in Ontonagon County was determined to have been killed by other wolves, Courchaine said.

Courchaine said that an increase in the killing of wolves during deer season is not unusual.

“Six wolves in the month of November is an increase for us from the past couple of years, but we’ve had one or two years with fairly similar numbers,” he said.

The DNR handles a potential wolf kill like any criminal investigation, Courchaine said. Wildlife biologists and conservation officers are sent to the scene to gather physical evidence and conduct interviews with hunters and other witnesses. As many as six officers at a time have been placed on wolf-kill cases.

Courchaine added that it is illegal to shoot coyotes during deer season in Michigan.

“All the people that kill a wolf and claim they thought they were shooting a coyote, that doesn’t hold much water,” he said.

Because wolves in Michigan and several other Great Lakes states have exceeded recovery goals for several years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed removing it from the federal endangered species list. A decision is expected in March.

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