on October 07, 2014 LANSING, MI —
Wolf hunt opponents rally outside of the Michigan Capitol on Wednesday, August 27, 2014.
Jonathan Oosting | firstname.lastname@example.org
Michigan voters will finally have a say on wolf hunting, but what they say this fall may not mean much at all. Proposal 1 and Proposal 2 on the November general election ballot are referendums on separate laws that paved the way for Michigan's first-ever wolf hunt, which took place last year and was limited to three zones of the Upper Peninsula.
A "no" vote would repeal those statutes, but the Republican-led Legislature has already approved a third law allowing for future wolf hunts, set to take effect early next year. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which has spent more than $1 million on petition drives to challenge the first two laws, isn't giving up the fight. The group is planning a lawsuit to challenge the newer law, arguing it is overly broad. "If those referendums are overturned in November, and the initiative is overturned in court, wolves could not be hunted for trophies," said Jill Fritz, head of the ballot committee and state director for the Humane Society of the United States. "Voters can send a very clear message that they do not accept this power grab by the Michigan Legislature and this attempt to take away the right of citizens to weigh in on wildlife protection issues."
The group is planning to run television ads and host town hall meetings in the run up to the November election, but wolf hunt supporters aren't planning to spend a dime. In their opinion, they've already won. Citizens For Professional Wildlife Management, a coalition of hunting and conservation groups, mounted its own successful petition drive that resulted in the Legislature enacting the newer wolf hunt law.
Because the new law includes an appropriation, earmarked for the Department of Natural Resources to fight Asian Carp, it cannot be challenged via referendum. So unless it's held up in court, it will be the law of the land come March or April.
Proposals 1 and 2 are "completely moot," according to Drew Youngdyke, a spokesperson for the coalition and public relations manager for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs."Legally, they have no effect," said Youngdyke. "But I think public relations-wise, there's really only one issue, and that's whether or not HSUS can convince people to vote their way in what's basically an exit poll. To me, that's the only thing it will tell us."
YoungDyke is confident that the "Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act" will survive any legal challenges. An attorney has already vetted it, he said, and the legislation includes a "severability clause" so that if one part is struck down, all others will survive.
The new law doesn't specifically allow wolf hunting. Instead, it affirms the ability of the Natural Resource Commission to designate new game species and establish hunts. We already know there won't be a hunt in 2014.
Because the first two laws were suspended and the third has not yet taken effect, the NRC doesn't currently have the authority to allow a hunt. Even if "yes" votes reinstate those laws in November, the DNR has said it wouldn't have enough time to set up a hunt this year.
Michigan is home to an estimated 636 grey wolves — all located in the Upper Peninsula — up from just six in the 1970s.
The federal government removed the animal from the endangered species list in 2012, and wildlife authorities say the growing population has coincided with increased attacks on livestock and pets as wolves become more comfortable around people.
"Wolves, in due time, learn to become very accustomed to and brazen around humans," Pete Butchko, state director for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services program, said during a recent round-table discussion. "If you think about wolf prey, they kill moose and they kill elk. What's a 160 pound Homo Sapien? They're just not afraid of anything."
Michigan's inaugural hunt was limited to three zones of the Upper Peninsula and capped at 43 wolves. The DNR's goal was to reduce livestock and pet depredation while simultaneously hoping to make wolves more wary of humans.
An MLive.com investigation found government half-truths, falsehoods and livestock numbers skewed by asingle farmer distorted some arguments for the hunt, but state officials said it was still justified.
A total of 22 wolves were killed in he inaugural hunt, and DNR officials say that pet and livestock depredation is actually up this year compared to 2013. "We, much to many people's frustration, are cautioning people not to draw conclusions on one year's hunt," said wildlife biologist Adam Bump. "..We had a severe winter, we had a depression in deer numbers, we had a lot of things that could have played a role there. So for me, it's difficult to say (whether the hunt was successful)."
Critics note that other Michigan laws already allow farmers or the DNR to kill nuisance wolves, which they say is a more effective way to deal with depredation than waiting for a yearly hunt. They question the rationale for the hunt, noting that the NRC is comprised of political appointees not scientists. "Genuine threats to human safety by wolves are exceedingly rare," Michigan Tech professors John Vucetich and Rolf Peterson told the NRC last year. "Recognizing and dealing with public perceptions about human safety is critically important. However, treating perception as reality, when the best-available science indicates otherwise is poor wildlife management and counter productive to solving the problem."
Wolf hunt proponents and opponents have already spent a combined $1.8 million on the fight and collected a combined 694,000 signatures over the course of three separate petition drives since 2013.
That's more than $2,800 and 1,000 signatures per wolf now living in Michigan, based on current population estimates. It's more than $81,300 and 31,500 signatures per wolf killed in last year's hunt.
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which had raised $1.6 million in direct contributions through July 20, is largely funded by the Humane Society of the United States, which has also provided about $1 million worth of time and staff, which are listed as in-kind contributions in campaign finance documents.
The HSUS and its legislative fund have each given about $1 million in cash or resources. The Doris Day Animal League of Maryland gave $200,000 last year, and individuals from Delaware and Denver gave $100,000 and $40,000, respectively. The group also boasts numerous small donations from residents across Michigan.
The ballot committee in July reported a $750,000 in-kind contribution for "media" from the Humane Society Legislative Fund, suggesting an ad campaign is already in the works. The group has also announced a series of town hall meetings across the state. HSUS President Wayne Pacelle is expected to do outreach in October. "We need to do a lot of education to tell voters about what those two laws mean," said Fritz. "We're going to dispel misinformation and scare stories about wolves. That's our task leading up to the election."
Citizens For Professional Wildlife Management, which used a petition drive to advance the pro-hunt measure to the Legislature, had raised $737,000 through July 20 and spent $714,000, mostly on signature collection.
The largest single donor was the Michigan Bear Hunter Conservation Association, which contributed $110,000. Various Michigan chapters of the Safari Club International made large donations, including the Southeast Michigan Bowhunters chapter, which gave $75,000.
The committee is not expected to raise or spend much more. "Our groups would rather spend their money on wildlife habitat and other things we're supposed to be doing," said YoungDyke. "But we are encouraging people to vote yes, because we do want to send a message to the HSUS that they can't buy votes in Michigan just by running a lot of misleading political ads."