Since the first wolf hunting season in decades opened in Wisconsin on Oct. 15, trophy hunters and recreational trappers have killed at least 38 wolves — nearly a third of the kill quota set by the state (poaching and accidental kills are not included in the total). Even a 14-year-old girl, the daughter of a trapper, got into the killing. In Minnesota, the season is set to open on Saturday, and the quota there is four times that of Wisconsin.
It’s all happening despite the opposition of humane groups, and some of the state's Native American tribes. The majority of the public also opposes the wolf hunt, according to an online poll by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. In the poll, 79 percent of respondents were opposed.
These two states rushed into the hunting and trapping seasons immediately after the federal government removed the gray wolf from the list of federally threatened and endangered species. It's a prescription for blood-letting and carnage, with wolf families traumatized and packs torn apart. And all for a trophy or a wolf pelt, not for the elimination of individual wolves posing a threat. It's surely not for food, since these are wild dogs, and there's no eating them.
It all highlights for me yet again why both Minnesota and Wisconsin need the ballot initiative process — and to join half the states that allow for citizen lawmaking. It’s been through such citizen initiatives that we created the first prohibitions on the extreme confinement of breeding pigs, veal calves and laying hens on factory farms, where we stamped out cockfighting in the outlier states that permitted it, where we’ve outlawed the unsporting and inhumane practices of leghold trapping and bear baiting, and initiated so many other reforms.
My bet is that if this issue of sport hunting and trapping of scarce wolf populations was put to a public vote, the citizens of Minnesota and Wisconsin would stop these seasons dead in their tracks. The wolves in Minnesota — already in a struggle for survival in the best of circumstances — have little idea of the additional threats that loom starting this weekend.
The initiative rights group Citizens in Charge asked voters in both states if they’d like to have this process available to them. By more than a three-to-one margin, voters said they would, with more than 60 percent of citizens wanting more voting rights.
Both Minnesota and Wisconsin decades ago banned the target shooting of mourning doves. But recently, bowing to pressure from the National Rifle Association, legislators legalized the practice in spite of broad public opposition. That happened in Michigan, too, but voters there put the issue on the ballot with The HSUS’s backing. The ban on dove hunting was restored, and every county in Michigan favored the prohibition on shooting the harmless birds. That was an example of direct democracy in action.
If Michigan legislators authorize a wolf hunting season, voters in that state could pursue a referendum to put the issue on the ballot as well. The availability of that process is a backstop against the actions of a rogue legislature that is out of step with public values. Minnesota and Wisconsin should have that backstop, too, and the wolf killing programs are another good example of why it’s needed.