A wolf killed by Jeff Powell is checked into the DNR station at Wakefield in Ontonagon County on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. The wolf was the second recorded kill in the Michigan's first wolf hunt. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)
on July 24, 2014
LANSING, MI -- Michigan lawmakers will have 40 days to act on a pro-wolf hunt measure that would undermine two statewide ballot proposals designed to stop a second and subsequent hunts.
The Board of State Canvassers on Thursday unanimously approved "citizen initiated legislation" that would reaffirm the ability of the Natural Resource Commission to designate game animals and establish hunts.
The measure now heads to the state Legislature, which is on summer break but could return to approve or enact the proposal. If lawmakers choose not to act, all three wolf hunt proposals would appear on the ballot, allowing voters to have the final say.
A group called Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management turned in 375,745 signatures for the pro-hunt measure. The Michigan Bureau of Elections estimated that 297,051 of those signatures were valid, easily topping the required number of 258,088.
The state House is tentatively scheduled to meet on July 30, August 13 and August 27. All three dates would fall inside the 40-day window that lawmakers will have to consider the citizen-initiated legislation under Michigan law.
House Republican spokesperson Ari Adler said leadership will review the legislation when it is presented by the Secretary of State, likely later Thursday, before making any decision on whether or not to vote on the measure.
Merle Shepard, who chairs the pro-hunt coalition and heads up Michigan chapters of Safari Club International, said he expects lawmakers to act on August 13. "We've been working with them and trying to get them up to speed on the issue," said Shepard. "We think we have the support there, and we're going to continue pushing until it happens."
Shepard and other wolf hunt advocates say that science should dictate hunting regulations, not the public, which could be swayed by emotional advertising funded by out-of-state interests.
But critics note the Natural Resources Commission does not actually have any scientists for members and argue that last year's first-ever wolf hunt was authorized based on faulty information and despite opposition from some experts.
Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said legislators should trust residents who put them in office by allowing a vote on the initiative. "They should reject the cynical attempt to get the legislature to rubber-stamp this measure and undermine the referendum process once again, before the people are even allowed to vote," Fritz said in a statement. "If there's one thing we've learned during our two petition drives, it's that Michigan residents value their right to vote and don’t want their voices silenced by extremist politicians and special interests in Lansing."
The Humane Society has poured money into two statewide petition drives seeking to ban wolf hunting in Michigan, spending roughly $1 million. Their first effort was sidestepped by the state Legislature, which passed a new law when an older version was suspended pending a public vote.
The pro-wolf hunt group, meanwhile, had raised more than $450,000 through late April, largely from hunting and conservation groups, according to campaign finance documents. The largest donation came from Michigan Bear Hunter Conservation.
Twenty-two wolves were legally killed in last year's wolf hunt, about half of what the state wanted, even in a limited hunt in three specific areas of the Upper Peninsula.
The citizen-initiated legislation would also require the state to continue offering free hunting, fishing and trapping licenses for active military members and set aside $1 million to fight Asian carp and other invasive species. Because it contains an appropriation, the measure would be immune from referendum, meaning anti-wolf hunting groups could not attempt to overturn it.