Despite protests, wolf hunt to begin

TRAVERSE CITY (AP) – During a lifetime of hunting, John Haggard has targeted elk in Colorado, moose in Alaska and caribou in Canada. Now comes a new challenge closer to home: the gray wolf.

Michigan’s first wolf hunt since the animal was placed on the endangered species list nearly 40 years ago gets underway Friday. Haggard is among 1,200 people licensed to participate and he’s been counting the days.

“They’re a crafty animal,” said Haggard, 72, of Charlevoix. “Even at my age, I’m always willing to learn a new skill.”

Michigan is the sixth state to authorize wolf hunting following the removal of federal protections in recent years, a testament to the strong comeback of a species that was close to eradication in the lower 48 states. The season runs through December, unless the maximum kill of 43 is reached beforehand.

As elsewhere, the hunt is bitterly contested. Supporters say Michigan’s wolf population – which the Department of Natural Resources estimates at 658, all in the Upper Peninsula – is healthy and secure. They contend a hunt is needed to rein in a predator that has killed or injured hundreds of cattle, sheep and dogs since the mid-1990s.

Opponents say the damage and danger are exaggerated. Relatively few farms have experienced problems, they say, and the landowners have legal authority to shoot wolves caught attacking livestock.

“There is no sound scientific basis to be killing these animals,” said Nancy Warren, an Upper Peninsula resident and regional director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition. State wildlife officials “are bowing down to special interest groups,” she said.

DNR biologist Brian Roell acknowledged that a disproportionate number of livestock attacks have happened on a single farm whose owner has drawn criticism for practices such as leaving animal carcasses unburied and failing to use state-provided fencing.

But 26 attacks were reported on 10 other farms in the same hunting zone between 2010 and 2012, despite use of non-lethal controls such as flashing lights and guard donkeys, the department says.