Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Anti-wolf hunt votes in Michigan deliver a blow even as attacks grow, now courts will make the call

Wolf Hunt
There are about 638 wolves in the mainland Upper Peninsula. A second hunt will not be held this year, but could in 2015, depending legal challenges. The first limited hunt in 2014 netted only 22 wolves. (File photo)

By John Barnes
on November 05, 2014

Whether there is another wolf hunt in Michigan is now up to the courts.

Hunt opponents say they intend to sue lawmakers, after two proposals opposing the hunt were soundly backed by Michigan voters on Tuesday.  Although the Legislature passed a law effectively bypassing voter choices, the matter is a victory for wolf-hunt opponents, and may become key, depending on court rulings, they claim. The political and legal jockeying comes as new information shows wolf attacks on cattle and dogs this year have more than doubled, according to a state wildlife biologist.

A third annual decline in the state's 638 wolves is expected when a 2015 survey is done, due to consecutive severe winters. Depredation of cattle and dogs is up, however, largely because wolves' primary natural prey have been reduced by the harsh winters, said Brian Roell, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources in Marquette. "Our hardest winters in many years really took a toll on the deer herd," Roell said. "I fully expect the (wolf) numbers will be down again ... I doubt pup survival was very high." So far in 2014, there have been 26 cattle and 17 dogs killed or injured, Roell said. That compares to 11 cattle and seven dogs in 2013.

"No" votes on Proposals 1 and 2 Tuesday essentially opposed hunting wolves; yes votes supported it.
With 93 percent of precincts reporting, Proposal 1 was headed for defeat, with 55 percent of voters choosing to reject a first wolf hunting law. Proposal 2 was on its way down as well, with 64 percent of voters saying "no" to a second wolf hunting law.

A legislative effort that made those votes arguably irrelevant is overbroad and expected to be challenged in court, critics say. Lawmakers' end-around the two petition drives include too many unrelated measures - such as $1 million to control Asian carp and free fishing and hunting licenses for military members - and is against the law, according to Mike Markarian, policy director of the Humane Society of the United States. The organization is the chief financial opponent of the hunt.
Drew Youngedyke is a spokesman for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a major organization supporting wolf hunts. He had two words for how courts will react: "Summary dismissal," meaning state experts will prevail in wildlife decisions.

Youngedyke did a radio interview on Mike Avery's' Outdoor Magazine that aired Nov. 1. "Well, it's a public relations issue. You know, HSUS is going to spend money on this because that's the only tactic they know how to do," Youngedyke said. "They know how to spend money. That's about all they know how to do. ... They are actually making (fundraising) money off this, believe it or not ... and they're going to try and use this as public relations victory for them, if you will. ... Even though we've already won this battle. "They can't stop one in 2015 no matter what the vote is," Youngedyke said.

Wolves were removed from the endangered species list in Michigan in 2012, opening the door to the state's first managed hunt beginning Nov. 15, 2013. Twenty-two of a targeted 43 wolves in the Upper Peninsula were killed. Eleven were males, 11 females. The median age was 2.6 years; two were more than seven years old. But an MLive.com investigation found government half-truths, falsehoods and wolf attacks skewed by a single farmer distorted some arguments for the hunt.

Tuesday's results were important to the Humane Society of the United States. Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive officer of the organization wrote recently: "We've got to win, to show lawmakers that they truly are out of step with public sentiment and to protect the state's small, recovering population of wolves from people who want to hunt them only for their heads or hides - not for food, and not to control individual animals who come into conflict with people. Just for the thrill of killing, and for their bitter hatred of animals who deserve much more in the way of our humanity."

Whatever the outcome in court, there will be no hunt this year. State wildlife officials could not legally act until March or April to consider a second hunt, DNR spokesman Ed Golder said.

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