Friday, April 12, 2013

Gray wolves in U.P. won't get reprieve under bill despite petition drive

April 11, 2013   |  
In this photo released by Michigan Technological University, a pack of gray wolves is shown on Isle Royale National Park in northern Michigan, Feb. 10, 2006. / AP Photo/Michigan Technological University, John V
Despite protests from animal rights activists, the hundreds of gray wolves inhabiting the Upper Peninsula won’t get a reprieve under a bill approved by a state Senate committee Thursday morning.
The bill would allow both the Legislature and the Natural Resources Commission to designate species of animals as game and set hunting seasons for those species. Right now, the Legislature is the only body that can do that.

What really angered the activists, however, was the inclusion of a $1-million appropriation in the bill, which would render their petition drive to halt the hunting of gray wolves a mere symbolic gesture that wouldn’t be binding, even if a majority of Michigan residents voted for the ban.

The gray wolf issue came up last year when the Legislature approved a bill that designated the wolves as a game species and directed the Natural Resources Commission to set a hunting season for the wolves. The wolf population in the western part of the Upper Peninsula has grown to 658 since 1973, when the animal population declined to six and they were put on the endangered species list.
The Natural Resources Commission heard a recommendation from the Department of Natural Resources Thursday that would limit the hunt to 47 animals in three areas of the Upper Peninsula. The NRC isn’t expected to vote on authorizing the hunt until next month.

After the Legislature voted last year, a coalition of animal rights groups gathered more than 250,000 signatures to ban the hunt and put the issue before voters on the 2014 ballot.

If the signatures are certified, any wolf hunt would have been suspended until after the vote.
The bill passed Thursday in the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes committee, however, would supercede the law passed last year and because it includes an appropriation, it can’t be subject to a referendum vote.

“We recently submitted over a quarter-million signatures to the secretary of state to take the wolves off the game species list,” said Scott Kaplan, of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which spearheaded the petition drive. “This is a deliberate attempt to circumvent democracy and an attempt to silence the will of the people.”

Bill Lombard, a Ferndale resident, called the bills “a cynical ploy to keep millions of Michigan’s voters from one of their most basic rights. It’s the most contemptible thing the Legislature can do.”
But Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, who sponsored the bill, said the Humane Society of the United States, one of the leading proponents of the stopping the wolf hunt, wants to ban hunting overall and has no idea of the havoc the wolves are creating in the Upper Peninsula.

“The wolves are on the outer edge of the community and nobody is talking about that,” he said. “In Ironwood, it's changed their way of life. And for somebody down here that doesn't experience that, they can go out in their backyard, they don't think about this type of thing."
The bill now goes to the full Senate for consideration.