Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Voters have their say on MI wolf hunt, but will it matter?


Though voters got to sound off on Michigan's controversial wolf hunt with their ballots Tuesday, the effect of their votes on future wolf hunts is in dispute.

Proposals 1 and 2 contained wording that affirms the state's ability, through the appointed Natural Resources Commission, to designate wolves and other animals as game species eligible for hunting. With 35 percent of precincts reporting Tuesday evening, Proposal 1 was losing by 55% to 45%, and with 36% reporting, Proposal 2 was losing by 64% to 36%.

The proposals were put on the ballot following petition drives by the nonprofit anti-wolf hunt group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, with support from the Humane Society of the United States. The group was urging 'no' votes on both proposals, so that Michigan voters could have a say on game hunts.

But wolf hunt supporters believe they rendered the two proposals moot with their own petition this past summer, which prompted the state legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder in August to pass a new law affirming the Natural Resources Commission will designate fish and game species for harvesting. That law is set to take effect next spring, and included an appropriation for combatting invasive species that shields the law from petition referenda.

Tuesday's results do not "really tell us anything except that the Humane Society of the United States spent millions on misleading political ads," said Drew YoungeDyke, field and public relations manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. The group is one of dozens of pro-hunting organizations comprising Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, whose petition drive led to the new law.

Jill Fritz, Michigan state director of the Humane Society of the United States, disagrees on the relevance of Tuesday's vote.

The Legislature and Gov. Snyder "passed a second law to take the citizens out of the process entirely," she said, noting that Proposal 2 was put on the ballot by citizen petitions after the Legislature and Snyder in May 2013 similarly acted to make Proposal 1 irrelevant.

"They have no intention of considering what the citizens in this state have to say, but they are going to say it anyway," Fritz said.

Supporters of the wolf hunt say it's an effort to reduce conflicts between wolves and humans occurring in areas of Michigan's Upper Peninsula, including attacks on hunting dogs and livestock. Opponents say provisions already exist to kill nuisance wolves without a hunt, and the hunt is more for trophy-seekers hunting a wolf population that is still precarious.

Wolves were all but eradicated in much of the United States by the 1930s. Michigan and other Great Lakes states lost almost all of their wolves by the end of the 1950s.

In 1973, Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act and officially protected the wolf that same year. It sparked a resurgence in the wolf population. The U.P. was known to have three wolves as recently as 1989. The population today stands near 650 wolves. The wolves have made an even more substantial recovery in Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The Michigan Legislature in late 2012 removed endangered species protection from wolves, and designated them as a game species subject to hunting. That prompted the formation of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which gathered more than 250,000 petition signatures seeking to put a wolf hunt question to Michigan voters.

But in May 2013, Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, that left decision-making on wolf hunts to the appointed Natural Resources Commission and the Legislature. Casperson's Senate Bill 288 effectively thwarted the petition drive to have a statewide vote on the wolf hunt.

That prompted a second petition drive from Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, this time seeking voters' right to address not only wolf hunting but any other game species the state might designate.
Michigan's first wolf hunt was held last November and December in designated zones of the Upper Peninsula, with 22 wolves killed, only about half of the 43 wolf quota set by the state. The hunt was postponed this year due to the November ballot proposals.

A third petition initiative, by the nonprofit Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, comprised of hunting group members, was conducted over the summer to counter Keep Michigan Wolves Protected's second approved ballot measure. It again allows the Natural Resources Commission to designate game species and would circumvent voters having a say on the wolf hunt. The Legislature approved the petition proposal in August, and Snyder signed it into law. It's set to take effect in the spring. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected officials have vowed to file a lawsuit to stop enactment of that law, but YoungeDyke expressed confidence that the law will withstand legal challenge.

source