"Are you listening, Michigan? Wolves are the problem," said one of the several people in favor of Senate Bill 1350 at Gogebic Community College in Ironwood on Thursday.
Wolves may not be a big problem much longer for some residents in the western UP. The Natural Resources, Environment, and Great Lakes Committee passed a resolution supporting Senate Bill 1350, which removes wolves from the protected non-game animal list in Michigan. The bill still needs to pass the full Senate. Senator Tom Casperson, chairman of the committee, listened to Gogebic County residents via teleconference from Lansing before a decision was made.
"We have too many. They're not acting right. We need your law," said Dan Perotti, a sportsman in favor of the bill.
Those in attendance in Ironwood and Lansing included multiple Native American tribes, humane societies, farmers, sportsmen, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Support for the bill was high, but the National Wolfwatcher Coalition was among several opposing the bill.
"It's not based on science, and there is no scientific evidence to support the need for designating the wolf as a game animal," said Nancy Warren, Great Lakes Regional Director for the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.
In January, the gray wolf was taken off the federal endangered species list in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The DNR now estimates the wolf population in Michigan is around 700, with a vast majority in Upper Michigan. The western counties have the highest concentration of wolves, but there are some in all UP counties. For some information wolves in the UP from the DNR, click here.
People brought up concerns that deer hunting is poor because too many deer are being killed by wolves, which could discourage tourism for out of state hunters. Others were concerned about livestock, pets, and even danger to humans.
"It's time for the State of Michigan to stop spending money on the wolves, and start making money on the wolves," said Dennis Ellos, representing the Citizens of Western UP on Wolf Management.
Others felt that the wolves are misunderstood and are not such a threat.
"I've never actually heard anybody describe them as an aggressive animal. They're not aggressive toward people. In the interactions I've had with them, they were simply curious," said Jackie Winkowski, volunteer with the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.
The committee voted five to two in favor of Senate Bill 1350. From here it moves on to the state senate. The date is not yet determined for when it will be put to the state vote, but the earliest possible would be in late November. Currently, wolves can only be legally killed if in certain situations, like endangering humans, livestock, or dogs. If the bill passes, Michigan will be one step closer to having a wolf hunting season for 2013 like Wisconsin and Minnesota, but it's far from set in stone.
"I don't want them extinct. I want a season and a smaller population," Perotti said.