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Michigan's Wolf Hunt Ends, But The Debate Over Gray Wolf Game Hunting Continues

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FILE - In this April 18, 2008, file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife shows a gray wolf. Michigan's first wolf hunt since the animal was placed on the endangered species list nearly 40 years ago gets underway Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. The state has issued licenses to 1,200 people. (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gary Kramer, File) | ASSOCIATED PRESS

Twenty-two wolves were killed this winter in Michigan's first state-sponsored hunt for the animals in 53 years, which ended Tuesday. But the fate of Michigan's packs of once-endangered wolves inspired controversy before a single shot was fired this winter -- and even with the tally of animals that were killed less than anticipated by the state's Department of Natural Resources, the battle over the wolves continues after the season ends.

The gray wolf once faced extinction in the lower 48 states before the animal became federally protected. But as animal populations thrived in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, Michigan become the sixth state to authorize hunting wolves, citing overpopulation and incidents showing the wolves were becoming a menace to residents.

An MLive investigation, though, later found many of those stories to be full of "half-truths" and "falsehoods." For example, a report that three wolves were shot outside a daycare in the Upper Peninsula where the children had been let outside to play, widely cited as a reason to hunt the animals again, is actually a myth, the MLive report charged. Same goes for the wolf specialist who said the animals had been observed fearlessly staring at humans through glass doors; the specialist later admitted he misspoke.

Despite allegations that the gray wolf danger was trumped up, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed a law passed by the legislature in 2012 that gave the state Natural Resources Commission the power to decide which types of animals can be hunted. In May, the administrative body approved a season allowing up to 43 wolves to be killed -- about 7 percent of the 658 wolves believed to live in the remote Upper Peninsula. 1,200 licenses available for hunters sold out in less than a week.

Michigan's hunting system is unique to the state, according to the Detroit News. Each area of the Upper Peninsula, where most wolf sightings have been reported, has a specific quota of wolves that are able to be shot. Hunters must report their kills to the DNR that day so an area can be shut down if the quota is reached. Five of the maximum 16 wolves were killed in the far western U.P., 14 of 19 in four central counties and three of eight in the eastern U.P, according to the Associated Press.

Temperatures around 10 degrees below zero likely turned off many hunters from this year's wolf hunt. But the Detroit News interviewed Jill Fritz, state director of the Humane Society of the United States and the director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, who said said hunters are learning what wolf supporters have been saying all along -- “wolves are shy, elusive creatures that will avoid human contact as much as possible.”

She and the Humane Society maintain that the wolf hunts are being held for sport, not for necessity.

As many as three separate ballot proposals dealing with the plight of the wolves will be fighting for the attention of Michigan voters in 2014. The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected group is currently collecting signatures for a 2014 ballot initiative that would allow Michigan voters to ban wolf hunting. The group has already collected enough signatures for a referendum that would undo the 2012 law signed by Gov. Snyder allowing wolves to be hunted in Michigan. A petition for an initiative to keep wolf hunting legal in Michigan could also end up on Michigan's 2014 statewide voting ballot if the group garners enough signatures.

Gov. Snyder said in May that he signed the bill paving the way for legalizing wolf hunting in Michigan because it gave the National Resources Commission, rather than elected legislators, power to determine which animals could be considered game.

"Scientifically managed hunts are essential to successful wildlife management and bolstering abundant, healthy and thriving populations," Snyder said.

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