Yesterday, the anti-hunters scored an incredible victory against hunting rights in Michigan and protected harmless wolves from bloodthirsty trophy hunters; at least, that’s what they’d have you believe. No, yesterday, the anti-hunters’ multi-million dollar ad blitz in southern Michigan’s urban centers convinced 55% of Michigan’s voters to vote against wolf hunting in a meaningless referendum, because hunters, anglers and conservationists already won this battle in August.
Proposals 1 and 2 were referendums brought by the Humane Society of the United States through its front group, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. They sought to repeal PA 520 of 2012 and PA 21 of 2013, both of which would have allowed wolf hunting. In Michigan’s system, even though the referendums were brought by HSUS, HSUS needed the “no” vote to win. And they got it, 55% to 45% on Prop 1 and 64% to 36% on Prop 2. End of story, right? Not at all.
You see, we expected that HSUS would use misleading advertising to lie to voters in urban and suburban areas of the Lower Peninsula. After all, that’s what they do. And that’s what they did. But in the meantime, we organized hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation organizations into the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management and initiated our own law to make sure that fish and wildlife management decisions are based on sound scientific fish and wildlife management principles. We collected enough signatures to present the law to the Legislature, and our elected representatives passed the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act in August. And this law will take effect in March, regardless of yesterday’s vote.
Paul Chapman, Jim Pryce and some of our troops collecting signatures at Cabela’s.
The Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which became Public Act 481 of 2014, is not about wolves. Its object, as its title says, is making fish and wildlife management decisions on the basis of sound scientific fish and wildlife management. It is built upon the foundation of Proposal G, which Michigan voters approved in 1996 with 68% of the vote and granted the Natural Resources Commission the authority to issue game orders, including method and manner of take, and required them to use sound science.
Through PA 481, we extended this existing authority and sound science requirement to naming game species and issuing fisheries orders. And, since the greatest threat to fisheries is aquatic invasive species, we including a $1 million appropriation to combat aquatic invasive species in the section of the law granting the NRC fisheries order authority. Finally, since most of the funding for fish and game in Michigan comes from hunting and fishing licenses, we included free hunting and fishing licenses for active military members, which was also part of SB 288.
While it may allow wolves to be hunted, its object is to make fish and wildlife management decisions with sound science and the provisions for the appropriation and military licenses specify how those decisions are funded and not funded. All along, HSUS has tried to claim this is just about wolves. But it’s about basing decisions on sound science, and every provision in the law supports that object.
In other words, HSUS will not be successful in challenging PA 481 of 2014 in court based on the title-object clause of the Michigan Constitution. Does that mean that HSUS will never be able to attack hunting rights in Michigan? Of course not. But it means that their road will be tougher. Because they will not be able to referendum a new game species designation anymore, it means that if they want to attack a hunting right in the future, they’ll have to do it through an initiative. That is important because an initiative on the ballot requires a “yes” vote, and voters tend to vote “no” on issues they don’t fully understand.
If you want to see what a difference that makes, look at Maine. In Maine, HSUS attempted to take away the right to hunt bears using bait, hounds or traps, and HSUS needed the “yes.” Maine voters voted “no” by a margin of 53% to 47%. Save Maine’s Bear Hunt ran an excellent campaign with lots of help from the United States Sportsmen’s Alliance and Maine’s professional wildlife biologists. They prove that, when HSUS needs the “yes,” they’re beatable on a general election ballot.
62.5% of counties approved wolf hunting, including all in the U.P., but urban population centers in the Lower Peninsula defeated Prop 1 by 55% – 45% of individual voters.
Back to Michigan: on Proposal 1, the most straightforward of the two proposals, voters were asked to determine if wolves should be a game species. While 55% of voters voted “no,” the majority of counties in Michigan voted “yes.” 52 out of 83 counties voted “yes” to wolf hunting, including every county in the Upper Peninsula (the only place where wolves are documented) and most of the primarily rural counties in the Lower Peninsula where citizens are more familiar with hunting and agriculture. We’ve heard anecdotes on social media that hunters were divided, but the county-by-county breakdown doesn’t really show that. Hunters make up about 20% of the Michigan population and we got 45% of voters statewide, and 62.5% of counties, including every county where voters are most familiar with the issue and actually have to live with the consequences.
Basically, HSUS ran $2 million in misleading ads and ran up their vote totals in urban and suburban counties in the Lower Peninsula, where a smaller percentage of the population has any real understanding of hunting and farming in general, and wolf issues in particular, which made them susceptible to HSUS’s lies. But it also shows that the more people who understand how hunting and conservation work, the fewer people who will believe HSUS’s lies.
Enter the Michigan Wildlife Council. This is the council that will manage the fund created by the $1 add-on to hunting and fishing licenses. It will fund a marketing campaign designed to reach the non-hunting and fishing urban public in Michigan – the exact population that was susceptible to HSUS’s lies this time around – so that they better understand how conservation works in Michigan and what hunting and fishing means to our state.
So while the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act won this short-term battle on wolf hunting, that was not its object. Its object is to make decisions about taking fish and wildlife with sound science over the long term. The next time HSUS comes back to Michigan to take away a hunting right, which I can almost guarantee they will try, the general non-hunting public in Michigan will be more informed and less susceptible to HSUS’s lies thanks to the Michigan Wildlife Council, HSUS will need the harder “yes” vote because of the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, and we can use Maine’s success as a model on how to beat them on the ballot if necessary. But that’s going to require money. More money than we raised this time around, and more than they raised in Maine.
So we’re starting early. You can help fund the next fight against HSUS starting now by donating to MUCC’s Resource Defense Fund here, or by donating your deer hide this year at a Defend the Hunt drop-off site, which you can find at www.mucc.org/defendthehunt.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: Michigan’s hunters, anglers and trappers will not let HSUS take away any more hunting rights in Michigan. We didn’t let them this time and we won’t let them next time. But we’re going to need your help. We won this battle when we passed the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act in August. And even after last night’s results, we still won. Let’s win the next one, too.