RAVERSE CITY (AP) - A western Upper Peninsula farmer's heavy livestock losses are not the primary reason for the first wolf hunt in Michigan since the animal was placed on the endangered species list nearly four decades ago, officials said Friday.
About 1,200 hunters have purchased tags authorizing their participation in the hunt, which begins Nov. 15. A total of 43 wolves can be killed in three sections of the U.P., where Department of Natural Resources officials say there have been a large number of complaints about the predator. The state's wolf population is estimated at 658.
Opponents contend the DNR's numbers have been skewed by a high number of attacks on cattle owned by John Koski, who operates two farms in Ontonagon County. MLive.com reported this week he owned 122 of the 248 cattle that were killed or injured by wolves since 1996, most in the past three years.
"We do not center the hunts around that one farm," DNR biologist Brian Roell said in a phone news conference. "There's no one farm or one incident that drove any part of developing" the zones where wolf hunting will be permitted.
Wolves in Michigan and most other states had disappeared by the time they were declared an endangered species in 1974, making it illegal to kill them unless they threatened human life. They began returning to the Upper Peninsula in the late 1980s and rapidly multiplied.
By 1999, their numbers had exceeded 200 for five consecutive years, the threshold for declaring them recovered. But lawsuits blocked the federal government's efforts to remove them from the list until last year. A state management plan identifies hunting as a way to deal with problem wolves in places where non-lethal methods fail, said Adam Bump, the DNR's furbearing animal specialist.
"We identified three areas where we couldn't resolve conflicts in a satisfactory way with the tools we had," he said. "We felt it was appropriate to recommend a limited season" in those zones, one of which includes Koski's farms.
Koski contends there are simply too many wolves. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, a group that opposes the hunt, says he hasn't done enough to protect his herds. In an August statement, the group said that when Koski's animals are removed from the total, "the actual amount of livestock losses due to wolves is minimal and cannot justify a wolf hunt."