Sunday, November 2, 2014

Michigan to weigh in on wolves

Sunday, 11/2/2014

Michigan has an estimated 600 to 650 gray wolves, such as these at Isle Royale National Park in the northern part of the state. Michigan has an estimated 600 to 650 gray wolves, such as these at Isle Royale National Park in the northern part of the state.

Michigan voters this year have a chance to weigh in on the hotly contested topic of managing the state’s gray wolf population, though the two referendums on the ballot would have limited impact.

Proposals 1 and 2 address laws passed in 2012 and 2013 regarding wolf hunting. Michigan has an estimated 600 to 650 gray wolves, which were removed from the state’s list of endangered animals in 2012. The state held its first wolf hunt last year in three designated zones in the Upper Peninsula.
A battle between groups that support and oppose wolf hunting was topped off in August when the state Legislature approved a citizen-initiated law that will allow for future wolf hunts. The new law, which did not require the governor’s signature and is set to take effect next year, will supersede the outcome of the referendums.

“From a legal standpoint, these referendums on the ballot aren’t going to have any effect,” said Amy Trotter, senior policy manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs that is a leader of the pro-wolf hunt campaign.

A yes vote on the referendums will continue the designation of wolves as game animals, allow the Natural Resources Commission to designate game species and to set the first hunts without approval by the Legislature, and give the Legislature sole authority to remove animals from the list of game species.

Additional measures include the creation of a Wolf Management Advisory Council, elimination of a $1 hunting and fishing license fee for military members, and giving the Natural Resources Commission sole authority to regulate fishing.

Proponents say the ability to set wolf hunting seasons is a tool for managing the population, much like it is for deer and other animals. Mrs. Trotter said letting the commission determine game species and set hunts allows for the decision to be based on science and not emotion.

But Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, the leading coalition of groups that oppose wolf hunting, says Michigan already has the necessary tools to deal with problem wolves. The state allows both nonlethal and lethal measures to be taken against wolves that threaten humans or livestock.

Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, said a general hunt will not necessarily address problem wolves as it does not target them specifically, meaning hunters may or may not wind up taking those individual wolves in addition to those that have not posed a threat.

Ms. Fritz said voters are more than capable of making informed decisions about wildlife management. She said proponents repackaged the laws going to referendum as a citizen-initiated law and attached a $1 million appropriation for emergency response to invasive aquatic species such as the Asian carp. Appropriations prevent a law from being placed on a ballot.

“Wildlife belongs to all of Michigan,” she said. “It’s appalling that not once, but twice, they have passed laws with the sole purpose of circumventing a vote.”

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected intends to file a lawsuit next year, claiming the law approved in August is unconstitutional.