Friday, October 10, 2014

MI voters can to make statement on wolf hunts

The Michigan general election ballot will ask voters whether they approve or disapprove of laws allowing wolf hunts that the Legislature enacted in 2012 and 2013.
Published: Thursday, 10/9/2014

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — It may be merely symbolic, but Michigan voters will get a chance during the Nov. 4 election to send a message about whether hunters should be permitted to target the gray wolf, a hardy predator staking a new claim to the Upper Peninsula a half-century after being shot, poisoned and trapped into statewide oblivion.

The general election ballot will ask voters whether they approve or disapprove of laws allowing wolf hunts that the Legislature enacted in 2012 and 2013. Opponents gathered enough petition signatures to force statewide referendums on both, although not quickly enough to head off a hunt last year, during which 22 wolves were killed — fewer than the authorized maximum of 43.

PROPOSAL 14-1: A referendum of Public Act 520 of 2012, establishing a hunting season for wolves and authorizing annual wolf hunting seasons.
Public Act 520 of 2012 would:
— Designate wolf as game for hunting purposes and authorize the first wolf hunting season.
— Allow the Natural Resources Commission to schedule annual wolf hunting seasons.
— Provide criminal penalties for the unlawful possession or taking of wolves, but shield a person who lawfully captures or destroys a wolf from prosecution.
— Require a person who wishes to hunt wolves to obtain a wolf hunting license.
— Create a Wolf Management Advisory Council for the purpose of making nonbinding recommendations to the legislature regarding the proper management of wolves.
Should this law be approved?

A referendum of Public Act 21 of 2013, granting the Natural Resources Commission the power to designate wolves and certain other animals as game without legislative action.
Public Act 21 of 2013 would:
— Allow the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to designate certain animals as game for hunting purposes and establish the first hunting season for game animals without legislative action.
— Continue the NRC’s designation of wolves as game and allow the NRC to set a wolf hunting season.
— Grant the Legislature sole authority to remove a species from the list of designated game animals.
— Eliminate the $1.00 hunting and fishing licensing fee for members of the military, whether stationed inside or outside of Michigan, subject to any lottery.
— Give the NRC sole authority to regulate fishing.

Should this law be approved?

Lawmakers this summer approved a third measure initiated by pro-hunting groups that will remain in effect regardless of how the statewide votes turn out. It empowers the state Natural Resources Commission, a seven-member panel appointed by the governor, to designate game species and set hunting and fishing policy. Lawmakers attached a $1 million appropriation to the bill, making it referendum-proof under state law.

Opponents contend the latest measure is unconstitutional and may challenge it in court. Meanwhile, they’re campaigning hard for “no” votes on the other two, hoping that a successful lawsuit and victory at the ballot box would convince lawmakers to back off.

“It’s very critical to send a strong message to the Legislature that the public does not want to see the wolf listed as a game species,” said Nancy Warren, Great Lakes regional director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.

Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, an alliance of sporting groups whose petition drive put the most recent measure before the Legislature, says it’s encouraging people to vote in favor of retaining both laws but won’t pump additional money into the effort. The organization had spent $714,030 through the end of July, according to reports filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
“Legally it’s a moot point,” spokesman Drew YoungeDyke said.

Even if the two laws are voted down, he added, it won’t necessarily prove that most Michigan residents oppose wolf hunts. “All it would say is if you spend more than $1 million in political advertising on something that legally has no significance, you can get the outcome you want,” YoungeDyke said.

Opponents are preparing a $1.5 million TV ad blitz in key media markets, said Jill Fritz, director of a group called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which is sponsoring the campaign with the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

YoungeDyke’s coalition contends the push to stop wolf hunts is driven largely by out-of-state animal rights activists, but Fritz noted that the pro-hunting side drew support from Safari Club International and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.

Wolves once roamed all of Michigan but had all but disappeared by 1960, when a state bounty program ended. A couple of decades later, with state and federal protection, they began migrating back to the U.P. from Minnesota and Wisconsin. Their numbers rose rapidly and were estimated at 636 last spring.

The Natural Resources Commission has ruled out another hunt for this year, whether or not voters endorse the practice. But the Department of Natural Resources, which advises the commission, is updating its wolf management plan and likely will continue supporting hunting and perhaps trapping as a means of defusing conflicts between the animals and people in certain areas, said Russ Mason, wildlife division chief. “The function of the commission is to weave together the best available science and the preferences of the public,” Mason said. “We’ll see how that plays out.”

Fritz said the commission isn’t an honest broker. “Totally beholden to trophy hunters and their lobbying groups,” she said.