Saturday, August 9, 2014

Jill Fritz: Trust voters to decide on wolf hunting

Aug. 8, 2014   |  
Jill Fritz
Jill Fritz
Twenty-three wolves were killed during Michigan's first wolf hunt in four decades. A political contest of referendums and initiated legislation is under way to determine whether the previously endangered animals will be hunted in the future.
Twenty-three wolves were killed during Michigan's first wolf hunt in four decades. A political contest of referendums and initiated legislation is under way to determine whether the previously endangered animals will be hunted in the future. / Associated Press file photo
There’s no better way to assess what the people of Michigan want than to allow them to vote on it.
When lawmakers return to Lansing on Wednesday, they’ll have an opportunity to restore respect for the democratic process by rejecting an initiative put forth by the pro-wolf-hunting group “Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management.” This initiative is a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent nearly one-half million Michigan residents who signed petitions during two referendum campaigns to stop wolf hunting.

In late 2012, soon after wolves were removed from Endangered Species Act protection, Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, passed a law designating them as a game species, over the strenuous objections of citizens, scientists, Native American tribes and conservationists. In response, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected was formed to exercise our right to referendum of newly-enacted laws, and soon collected more than enough signatures to place that law on hold until citizens could decide in the November 2014 election.

But Sen. Casperson, sensing that voters would reject the trophy hunting of Michigan’s wolves, as they had the shooting of mourning doves in 2006, quickly passed a second law allowing the governor-appointed Natural Resources Commission to designate new game species instead — thus bypassing that referendum vote on the issue.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected then conducted another referendum on that second law, hoping to have it overturned at the ballot box, too.

But trophy hunting and trapping groups, supported by Sen. Casperson, began an initiative campaign that rehashed that same law, giving power to designate game species to the NRC. To further confuse voters, they added a $1 million appropriation, ostensibly to stop Asian carp but in reality to prevent another referendum.

When that second bill was approved last spring, tales were circulating through the Legislature of a “growing population” of wolves stalking children on a playground, staring at people through their patio doors, and devouring livestock in increasing numbers. Some legislators believed they were passing a bill to address these incidents.

However, it was later revealed that the wolf population wasn’t growing and those scary stories were fabricated. This was acknowledged in a Senate-floor apology by Sen. Casperson that garnered national attention. An independent news investigation also revealed that one negligent farmer was responsible for two-thirds of U.P. wolf/livestock incidents, and when making its decision on a wolf hunt the NRC had ignored and deleted thousands of comments from Michigan citizens who opposed it.

Simply put, proponents of wolf hunting have lost their credibility in their rush to sidestep the will of the people. Now that lawmakers know about the misinformation behind that legislation, they have no excuse to re-approve it just because it has been repackaged as an initiative.
It’s time for legislators to respect the constitutional right of voters to approve or disapprove laws at the ballot box. They must trust the voters who put them in office, and let them have their say on this issue in the November election.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected trusts our state’s voters to make the right decision.

Jill Fritz is director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected.

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