LANSING, MI — Michigan voters will finally have a say on wolf hunting, but what they say this fall may not mean much at all.
Proposal 1 and Proposal 2 on the November general election ballot are referendums on separate laws that paved the way for Michigan’s first-ever wolf hunt, which took place last year and was limited to three zones of the Upper Peninsula.
A “no” vote would repeal those statutes, but the Republican-led Legislature has already approved a third law allowing for future wolf hunts, set to take effect early next year.
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which has spent more than $1 million on petition drives to challenge the first two laws, isn’t giving up the fight. The group is planning a lawsuit to challenge the newer law, arguing it is overly broad.
“If those referendums are overturned in November, and the initiative is overturned in court, wolves could not be hunted for trophies,” said Jill Fritz, head of the ballot committee and state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
“Voters can send a very clear message that they do not accept this power grab by the Michigan Legislature and this attempt to take away the right of citizens to weigh in on wildlife protection issues.”
The group is planning to run television ads and host town hall meetings in the run up to the November election, but wolf hunt supporters aren’t planning to spend a dime. In their opinion, they’ve already won.
Citizens For Professional Wildlife Management, a coalition of hunting and conservation groups, mounted its own successful petition drive that resulted in the Legislature enacting the newer wolf hunt law.
Because the new law includes an appropriation, earmarked for the Department of Natural Resources to fight Asian Carp, it cannot be challenged via referendum. So unless it’s held up in court, it will be the law of the land come March or April.
Proposals 1 and 2 are “completely moot,” according to Drew Youngdyke, a spokesperson for the coalition and public relations manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.
“Legally, they have no effect,” said Youngdyke. “But I think public relations-wise, there’s really only one issue, and that’s whether or not HSUS can convince people to vote their way in what’s basically an exit poll. To me, that’s the only thing it will tell us.”
YoungDyke is confident that the “Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act” will survive any legal challenges. An attorney has already vetted it, he said, and the legislation includes a “severability clause” so that if one part is struck down, all others will survive.
The new law doesn’t specifically allow wolf hunting. Instead, it affirms the ability of the Natural Resource Commission to designate new game species and establish hunts.
We already know there won’t be a hunt in 2014.
Because the first two laws were suspended and the third has not yet taken effect, the NRC doesn’t currently have the authority to allow a hunt. Even if “yes” votes reinstate those laws in November, the DNR has said it wouldn’t have enough time to set up a hunt this year.
Michigan is home to an estimated 636 grey wolves — all located in the Upper Peninsula — up from just six in the 1970s.
The federal government removed the animal from the endangered species list in 2012, and wildlife authorities say the growing population has coincided with increased attacks on livestock and pets as wolves become more comfortable around people.
“Wolves, in due time, learn to become very accustomed to and brazen around humans,” Pete Butchko, state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program, said during a recent round-table discussion. “If you think about wolf prey, they kill moose and they kill elk. What’s a 160 pound Homo Sapien? They’re just not afraid of anything.”
Michigan’s inaugural hunt was limited to three zones of the Upper Peninsula and capped at 43 wolves. The DNR’s goal was to reduce livestock and pet depredation while simultaneously hoping to make wolves more wary of humans.
An MLive.com investigation found government half-truths, falsehoods and livestock numbers skewed by a single farmer distorted some arguments for the hunt, but state officials said it was still justified.
A total of 22 wolves were killed in he inaugural hunt, and DNR officials say that pet and livestock depredation is actually up this year compared to 2013.
“We, much to many people’s frustration, are cautioning people not to draw conclusions on one year’s hunt,” said wildlife biologist Adam Bump. “..We had a severe winter, we had a depression in deer numbers, we had a lot of things that could have played a role there. So for me, it’s difficult to say (whether the hunt was successful).”
Critics note that other Michigan laws already allow farmers or the DNR to kill nuisance wolves, which they say is a more effective way to deal with depredation than waiting for a yearly hunt. They question the rationale for the hunt, noting that the NRC is comprised of political appointees not scientists….
Click HERE for the rest of the article
Jonathan Oosting is a Capitol reporter for MLive Media Group. Email him, find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.