Monday, April 22, 2013

Fighting for wolves — and democracy

Apr 20, 2013   |  
Wolves have increased in number in Michigan. Now some people want to hunt them.
Wolves have increased in number in Michigan. Now some people want to hunt them.
For Brenda Shufelt of Birmingham, it isn't just about the wolves.
Shufelt, a counselor with the St. Clair Shores Schools, is a longtime animal lover and has been circulating petitions to stop the proposal to hunt wolves in Michigan.

For weeks, she and some 2,000 other volunteers collected signatures to present to legislators in Lansing, and on March 27, the petitions were delivered.
The message was clear: More than 253,000 people in Michigan wanted to be given the opportunity to vote on the possibility of allowing wolf hunts, or to keep the animals protected and out of the gun sight of hunters.

But it doesn't look as though the people of Michigan are going to get a chance to decide that question.
State Sen. Tom Casperson, a Republican who represents the western half of the Upper Peninsula, introduced legislation that would give the state Department of Natural Resources the sole right to add and remove species from the list of those that are hunted. And he threw in a $1 million appropriation for “research, education and outreach,” which automatically means the measure cannot be put up to the vote of the people.

All of this, said Shufelt, has subverted the democratic process. “The people of Michigan should have the right to say which animals should be hunted,” Shufelt said. And essentially all the petition signatures that were collected are now meaningless. “There's nothing we can do,” she said. “All we're asking for it to allow the people of Michigan to decide. The people of Michigan are losing their rights as citizens.”

Increasingly, the state legislators have been using the tactic of attaching appropriations to controversial bills to prevent them from being challenged by voters. Under the state Constitution, measures with appropriations cannot be put up to a vote.

Frustrated supporters of the wolves are planning a rally for 11 a.m. Tuesday, April 23, on the steps of the state Capitol. Shufelt and other supporters of the wolves are urging residents to write to their legislators to oppose SB 288 and HB 4552, the measures that ultimately allow the wolf hunts.
On his website, Casperson, who is chairman of the state Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee, said the pair of bills “build upon voter-approved policy from 1996's Proposal G, which charged the Natural Resources Commission with regulating the taking of game based on sound scientific management.”

“In 1996, the voters wisely decided that they wanted the NRC to regulate the taking of game based on science. And, from what I continue to hear, especially lately, the belief that we need to manage game scientifically is even more strongly held today,” Casperson said.

Management of wildlife is an issue that constituents routinely raise as one of great concern for economic, recreational and social reasons. The proposed legislation looks to maintain and build upon that objective while ensuring that management by hunting and fishing is preserved for the future.”
But for Shufelt and other members of the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected organization, what's happening to the wolves is symptomatic of a deeper threat to the rights of voters.

“We have to protect our democracy,” she said.