FILE - In this April 18, 2008, file photo provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife shows a gray wolf. The Michigan Natural Resources Commission on Thursday, July 11, 2013, again approved hunting of the once-federally protected wolves in the Upper Peninsula under a new state law passed to circumvent a referendum on an earlier hunting law. (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gary Kramer, File) ( (AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gary Kramer, File))
"There is no scientific justification for a wolf hunt — people can already shoot wolves that are threatening livestock or property, and people don't hunt wolves for food," Jill Fritz, director of the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected ballot committee, said Tuesday.
Her group, which already turned in more than 250,000 signatures in a thwarted attempt to block this year's hunt, is in the midst of a second petition drive seeking to repeal a new law enacted after an earlier version was suspended.
"This wolf hunt is not based on science, but on politics," said Fritz, who also works as state director for the Humane Society of the United States, which has spent millions on the effort in Michigan.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources on Saturday will begin selling licenses for the state's first wolf hunt, which will be limited to three areas of the Upper Peninsula. The agency had planned to offer licenses back in July but delayed the sale in order to better prepare for what is expected to be heavy demand.
Beginning at noon on Saturday, up to 1,200 hunters will be able to purchase wolf licenses, which will cost $100 for a resident and $500 for a non-resident. The hunt will begin on November 15 and last through December -- or until 43 wolves are killed.
Related: DNR's 2013 Michigan Wolf Hunting Digest (.pdf)
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has warned voters that the state could lift the 43-animal quota in future seasons and allow for more wolves to be killed.
State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, hopes so. "Forty-three isn't enough," said Casperson, who sponsored the wolf hunting bills after farmers in his district told him they were losing livestock in wolf attacks. "If opponents were honest with people, they'd agree that we have to control the herds. But they're not.
"They're placing more importance on a wolf -- an animal -- than they are on these people that are trying to make a living for themselves. It's sad, because I think I'm losing the battle down here because the public doesn't see what's happening up there."
Michigan's Upper Peninsula is currently home to an estimated 658 wolves, which had been on the federal endangered species list until early in 2012. That's up from roughly 500 in 2008 and approximately 200 in 2000. The state counted just three wolves in 1989.
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected claims that hunting proponents have been over-exaggerating livestock attacks in an attempt to win public support.
The group used a Freedom of Information Act request to secure DNR records related to one of the three areas where wolf hunting will be allowed this fall. Of the 120 wolf-related livestock deaths reported in that area between 2010 and 2013, the coalition said that 96 of them occurred on a single farm where the owner had failed to utilize state-funded deterrence methods, according to the records.
"One negligent farmer who refused to use the fences and guard donkeys given to him for free by the state cannot be held up as the poster child for Michigan's wolf hunt," Fritz said last month. "The true intent of the wolf hunt in Michigan has nothing to do with livestock conflicts. It is purely to satisfy a vocal minority who just want a trophy hunt."
Attacks have not been limited to that one farm, however. The DNR recently confirmed that at least five beagles were eaten by wolves last month in the eastern Upper Peninsula, and Casperson said he talked with a farmer in the western UP who, having already lost livestock to wolves, recently stayed up all night driving his property after hearing howls.
"He was out there at three in the morning," Casperson said. "So for these people to suggest that the problem is solved because he has the right to shoot wolves if they're attacking his animals? There's not one of those people who would want to live like that. What that man is doing is trying to make a living for him in his family. I'll defend him all day long."
Earlier this year, wolf hunt opponents turned in enough signatures to temporarily suspend Public Act 520 of 2012, which added grey wolves to the list of Michigan game species that can be hunted. Casperson and his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature responded by approving another bill that gave the state's Natural Resources Commission the authority to add a new species to the game list.
The upcoming hunt will be limited to three areas in the Upper Peninsula. A) A portion of Gogebic County including the city of Ironwood; B) Portions of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon and Gogebic counties; and C) Portions of Luce and Mackinac counties.
Hunters will be required to a report any wolf kills by phone on the day that it occurs. Once the target number of wolves are killed in a specific hunting area -- 16 in Zone A, 19 in Zone B and 8 in Zone C -- that unit will be closed to hunting. License holders will be required to check daily by phone or online to determine whether any zones have been closed.