A Second Chance for Michigan's Wolves
Yesterday, the Michigan Board of Canvassers officially approved an HSUS-backed referendum to give voters an opportunity this November to take away the authority of the state Natural Resources Commission to reclassify “protected” species as “game” and to block future sport hunting and commercial trapping seasons on the state’s small number of wolf packs. It’s the latest decision point in a long-running battle between a broad coalition of wolf protectors and good government advocates on one side, and wolf haters and state legislators aligned with them on the other. The proponents of wolf hunting have engaged in an extraordinary series of dirty tricks in their mania to kill wolves for trophies. And now, we’ve put the matter back where it belongs, in front of Michigan’s citizens:
Here’s a recap of how events for wolves have unfolded there:
- In 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eliminated federal protection for gray wolves, who have been classified as a threatened species in the Great Lakes region since 1975. The HSUS has sued in federal court to challenge this delisting, with Michigan’s fragile population of wolves below 650 in number. Our latest case is pending in federal court.
- After the federal delisting, Michigan’s state legislature, during a lame-duck session in 2012, reclassified the wolf as a game species and authorized the state’s Natural Resources Commission to set a trophy hunting season for fall of 2013.
- The HSUS, Native American tribes in Michigan, the Detroit Audubon Society, and a diverse group of conservation and humane organizations filed a citizen referendum to give voters the chance to void the action of the legislature. Our team gathered 250,000 signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot, collecting the signatures in an astonishing 67 days and submitting them to the secretary of state in March.
- Before the signatures were officially tallied, wolf-hunting enthusiasts worked with their allies in the legislature to try to make our ballot referendum moot and to find a new way to hunt wolves – in this case, by pushing a bill to extend authority to establish a trophy-hunting season for a protected species to the Natural Resources Commission, a group composed of political appointees. Lawmakers ramrodded this measure through the legislature, in an attempt to make an end-run around voters and nullify the first ballot measure. The governor signed the bill in May of 2013.
- That second bill enabled a hunting season to occur, where trophy hunters shot and killed 23 wolves, including one pup who was just six months old. They based the hunt on the idea that there were too many wolves and that they were causing damage to livestock.
- Just as the fall hunt was proceeding, MLive, a consortium of the state’s largest papers, did an exposé showing how two-thirds of all wolf “incidents” with livestock occurred on a single farm, where the rancher left parts of deer and cows carcasses in pastures as a de facto bait to lure wolves in and kill them. He also collected more than $30,000 in compensation from the state, and failed to install taxpayer-funded fencing to protect his animals. Some of his animals starved, and he was later charged with animal cruelty. He’s pleaded no contest to the charges. In short, the entire hunt was predicated on trumped-up charges against wolves and false stories circulated to scare fellow legislators and the public.
- Keep Michigan Wolves Protected launched a second referendum to give voters a chance to nullify the second act of the Legislature, since the hunt was predicated on a lie. Yesterday, the state Board of Canvassers approved that measure for the ballot.
- Meanwhile, trophy-hunting advocates have launched their own signature drive and ballot initiative measure that includes re-asserting the authority of the Natural Resources Commission to establish a hunting season for almost any protected species, including wolves. The petition also includes a measure to give out free hunting licenses to active duty military (without mentioning that those licenses were previously only $1) and a $1 million appropriation, presumably to eradicate invasive aquatic species in the Great Lakes but in reality to make the measure referendum-proof. This third pro-wolf-hunting measure is being circulated for the sole purpose of ramming through a wolf trophy-hunting season and stopping the people from voting on the issue. The petitions for this latest power grab are due on May 28th.
The bottom line is, the trophy-hunting groups, if they gather enough signatures, will try to let lawmakers approve their ballot measure in the legislature, bypassing the voters and trying to void the two citizen ballot measures that have already qualified for the November ballot. Anyone who cares about the proper workings of government should demand that the legislature not do so.
Given that the opponents keep trying to block a citizen vote, and to hand the decision to a few dozen state lawmakers, it is pretty obvious that they don’t seem confident of their position with the people. They have subverted good government principles, manufactured a phony case against wolves, and been driven by an irrational understanding of wolves and their place in Michigan and within the ecosystem.
Time to let the people decide.