Wolf hunt issue still being debated

A proposal that would allow for a wolf hunt regardless the results of a potential voter referendum on the issue, was advanced by a Senate committee Thursday.

The legislation proposed by Senate Republican Tom Casperson of Escanaba would give the state’s Natural Resources Commission the authority to designate a species as a game species without the Legislature’s permission. Current law requires that the Legislature designate a game species and then give the NRC permission to establish a hunt.

The measure also includes a $1 million-dollar appropriation, which protects it from being overturned by a voter referendum.

The Humane Society of the United States, which opposes a wolf hunt, says the measure is a deliberate attempt to thwart their pending ballot proposal.

The Humane Society is part of a coalition, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, that submitted nearly 254,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office seeking to put a question on the statewide ballot that would throw out a law that allows the state to schedule a wolf hunting season in Michigan.

Supporters of a wolf hunt contend that gray wolves have been causing problems in the Upper Peninsula.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says the killing of 43 gray wolves would keep the population stable.

The Natural Resources Commission (NRC) released numbers showing the 2013 updated wolf population in the state is 658, down from 687 population estimate in 2011.

The numbers come ahead of the NRC’s vote on a wolf hunting draft from the Department of Natural Resources.

MIRS News Service reports the DNR is proposing a hunt to kill 43 wolves: 16 in Wolf Management Unit (WMU) A, which covers the far western Upper Peninsula; 19 for WMU B, which includes portions of Baraga, Houghton, Ontonagon, and Gogebic Counties; and eight for WMU C, which includes portions of Luce and Mackinac counties.

John Madigan, who chairs the NRC Policy Committee on Wildlife and fisheries says, “I think the main point, if there’s one point that needs to get out there, it’s that the wolf hunt is not to decrease the number of wolves. It’s to manage the wolves.”

The group, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected released a statement this afternoon.  Media spokesman Jim Karshner says it’s a blatant display of political bullying that will put Michigan’s declining wolf population further at risk since members of a state Senate committee voted 5-2  Thursday to allow unelected members of the Natural Resources Commission – and not the voters of Michigan – to determine if wolves should be hunted and trapped for trophies after decades of protection.

Casperson, chair of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes, introduced Senate Bill 288, legislation that will circumvent Michigan’s voter referendum law, on the same day wildlife managers reported that Michigan’s still-recovering wolf population has dropped. The measure also includes a non-related appropriation, a legislative scheme that prevents the voters from rejecting the measure in a referendum.

“Michigan voters want to have their say on whether the state’s declining wolf population remains protected or is subjected to painful and unsporting practices such as baiting and steel-jawed leghold traps,” said Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, a coalition that recently submitted 253,705 voter signatures to repeal another Casperson-sponsored attempt to trophy hunt wolves. “This is an extreme power grab by politicians and a deliberate attempt to subvert democracy and silence the voices of Michigan voters.”

Karshner went on to say, “Senate Bill 288 is being fast-tracked to prevent the state Board of Canvassers from certifying signatures from registered voters in every corner of the state, which would suspend the wolf hunting law until voters could decide in the matter on the November 2014 ballot. This new bill would empower a politically appointed panel of seven persons to designate animals as game species without public input or voter oversight.”

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected provided the following information:

  • The Department of Natural Resources announced on Thursday that according to its 2012 survey, Michigan’s wolf population decreased from 687 to 658.
  • More than 2,000 Michigan residents volunteered for Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, a coalition of animal welfare groups, conservationists, veterinarians, Native American tribes and faith leaders, to gather signatures during sub-freezing temperatures in just 67 days.
  • After being hunted to the brink of extinction and more than four decades of protection, there are fewer than 700 wolves in Michigan.
  • Despite the wolf population’s fragile status, the Michigan legislature rushed a bill through in December 2012, opening the door to the same practices that virtually eradicated the wolf population in the first place.