We all remember what happened with weapons of mass destruction and the Iraq war. The U.S. government’s claims about the weapons never panned out, and the public felt duped about getting involved in a conflict that has cost the nation thousands of American lives and upwards of a trillion dollars. It was not just the consequences of war that were at issue, but the assumptions and false claims that left so many Americans disturbed about the process.
Well, what’s happening with wolves in Michigan hardly rises to the importance of national security or international war. Matters of animal welfare and wildlife protection are far less weighty. But there’s something of a scandal brewing in the state.
Led by reporter John Barnes and a team of other investigative writers, Michigan Live (a consortium of eight of the state’s top newspapers) has blown the whistle on state lawmakers, the state Department of Natural Resources, and a very vocal farmer who conspired to trump up charges against wolves, to drive a policy change to allow for trophy hunting of the state’s very small population of wolves for the first time in 50 years.
Today, Jill Fritz, our Michigan state director and also the director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, asked Gov. Rick Snyder to assert executive authority and block the hunt scheduled to begin on November 15th, since the rationale for the hunt was predicated on a series of falsehoods and reckless actions by enthusiasts for the hunt. She’s asked the governor to let the people decide the issue, since they’ve already gathered signatures on one referendum to nullify the original law approved by the governor, and the legislature and citizens are gathering signatures for a second petition as well. We expect both referenda to appear on the November 2014 ballot in Michigan.
Here are just a few of the claims detailed in Fritz’s letter
to Gov. Snyder:
- The language in House Resolution 48 of 2011 and Senate Resolution 39 of 2011, sent to Congress to support the removal of the Great Lakes population of wolves from the federal endangered species list, grossly distorted the details of a wolf sighting outside an Upper Peninsula daycare. The incident, cited in the resolutions by the authors, never occurred, and it was instrumental in drumming up fear about imagined wolf attacks on children.
- The Department of Natural Resources’ fur bearer specialist and Michigan United Conservation Clubs’ “Conservationist of the Year” Adam Bump intentionally misled public radio listeners with comments about wolves showing up in people’s backyards. He has since renounced his false claims, but again, after the legislature took action on the resolutions and the two bills.
- The Natural Resources Commission solicited public feedback on the wolf hunt and then deleted or ignored more than 10,000 email comments from members of the public opposing the hunt.
- More than 60 percent of wolf-livestock incidents in the Upper Peninsula have occurred on a single farm, whose owner has a history of potentially criminal animal care, baited wolves using deer carcasses on his property, left bones and carcasses of cattle in his fields in violation of state laws and that also acted as bait, and still got tens of thousands of dollars in reimbursements and equipment and services that he squandered in his obvious attempts to exaggerate the impact wolves had on his property. The purported incidents of wolf depredation on his property were a central argument of lawmakers and others who demanded the hunt.
There are several issues at work here. First, the state’s small population of wolves should not be subjected to trophy hunting and commercial trapping. Second, the voters of Michigan were sneered at by legislators. They gathered 250,000 signatures in an attempt to block wolf hunting. Yet, even before their public referendum was certified, state lawmakers passed a second bill to nullify the action of citizens. That’s an issue of democratic decision-making. And third, key officials, both public and private, fabricated incidents to drive home their policy goals. That should never be tolerated in a civil society.
The whole process, now exposed by investigative reporters in Michigan, amounts to an abuse of power. Gov. Snyder should cancel the hunt and let the public decide the fate of wolves. Obviously, some state officials cannot be trusted with this decision. The people, on the other hand, can be trusted to make the right call.