Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Michigan wolf hunt opponents plan Capitol rally with House expected to vote on initiated law

Jeff Powell checks his wolf into the DNR station at Wakefield Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. The wolf was the second recorded kill in the Michigan's first wolf hunt. Powell is from Elkton. (Cory Morse |

By Jonathan Oosting
on August 26, 2014
Michigan Wolf Hunt
LANSING, MI — Michigan’s long-simmering debate over wolf hunting may come to a boil Wednesday, when the Republican-led state House is expected to enact a citizen-initiated law paving the way for future seasons. Senate approval earlier this month was punctuated by accusations of special-interest influence on both sides of the issue and anti-democratic maneuvering.

A tentative House agenda for Wednesday includes the “Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act,” which would reaffirm the authority of the Natural Resources Commission to name new game species and establish hunts. House Republican spokesperson Ari Adler said the agenda item does not necessarily mean there will be a vote, but opponents and proponents are both expecting action.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which has mounted two statewide petition drives in an attempt to prevent wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula, is scheduled to host a rally outside the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday as lawmakers return from summer recess. But their efforts may be trumped by the citizen-initiated bill, sent to the Legislature via a third statewide petition drive. Approval would render moot the two wolf hunt proposals already approved for the November ballot.

The Michigan Constitution gives lawmakers the ability to enact citizen-initiated legislation without the governor’s signature. They also have the option to do nothing, which would send the measure to the statewide ballot for voter consideration. “We call on House members to end this abuse of power, restore respect for the democratic process, and allow the people to determine whether wolves should be hunted and other critical wildlife management issues,” Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and state director of the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement announcing the rally.

Supporters, who have been calling lawmakers to urge a vote, say that science — not public opinion — should determine whether wolf hunting should continue in Michigan following last year’s inaugural season, limited to three regions of the UP. "You’re just going to keep getting out-of-state organizations coming in with big money and pushing the issue up and up until they outspend you on emotional ads to get people to vote on something," Merle Shepard, chair of the Citizens For Professional Wildlife Management, said last month. "That’s just the wrong way to manage wildlife.”

But critics say the Natural Resource Commission, whose seven members are appointed by the governor, can be influenced by political pressure and question the science used to validate the first-ever wolf hunt.

State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, speaking in support of the citizen-initiated bill on the floor, suggested that organized opposition to wolf hunting actually “is about taking away our hunting and fishing privileges” and noted the involvement of the Humane Society of the United States.

HSUS President Wayne Pacelle accused Casperson of using a "phony" quote attributed to him on several pro-hunt websites and sourced to an out-of-print "tree hound" magazine article from 1990. He refuted the suggestion that the organization is seeking a blanket ban on hunting. “We’ve repeatedly said we don’t object to Michigan’s tradition of deer hunting and we would never try to stop that,” Pacelle told MLive. "We’ve specifically said that wolves are rare, and that there’s no good reason to kill them, since nobody eats wolves.”

An estimated 214,000 registered voters signed a petition that suspended a 2012 wolf hunting law, but the Legislature turned around and passed a second version. Another 183,000 registered voters signed a petition for a referendum on the second law. Both proposals are set to appear on the November ballot, but they may not hold any weight. Some 297,000 registered voters signed a petition for the pro-hunt bill, and approval by the state House on Wednesday would make it law. Because it contains an appropriation, it would not be subject to voter referendum.

There are now an estimated 636 wolves in the UP. Twenty-two wolves were legally killed in a hunt that ran from mid-November through December in three zones of the Upper Peninsula, about half the number that the state had hoped for.

An investigation found government half-truths, falsehoods and livestock numbers skewed by a single farmer distorted some arguments for the inaugural hunt. Proponents say that wolf hunts are an effective population-control tool for limiting attacks on livestock and pets, arguments bolstered by recent news that wolves had killed five hunting dogs in the span of three days, along with a cow.

Update: Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management announced Tuesday afternoon that supporters will also be gathering at the state Capitol on Wednesday morning to urge a “yes” vote on the citizen-initiated legislation.