Wildlife group attempting to get referendums on two hunting-related laws

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, a coalition dedicated to protecting Michigan’s wolf population, has been working to obtain signatures to get ballot referendums on two hunting-related laws that have passed through the Michigan legislature since the Federal protection of wolves was lifted in 2012.

One of these laws, Public Act 21 of 2013, gave the Natural Resources Commission the authority to designate game species, but it has been put on hold by the pending referendum.

The Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act is a new initiative put forth by the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, which includes groups like the Michigan United Conservation Clubs.  One of the objections to the initiative is that, like PA-21, it would also allow the NRC the authority to designate game species, essentially bypassing that referendum.

“The NRC operates under a simple majority, and so in effect, you can have four political appointees who do not represent the views of the general public,” National Wolf Watcher Coalition executive director Nancy Warren said. “They have no scientific background, yet they will be authorized to designate species as game and establish rules and regulations for hunting.  Right now the way it is, any law that’s passed by legislature that doesn’t have an appropriations attached to it can be challenged through the veto referendum process by citizens.  NRC decisions cannot be challenged.”

“If we don’t have it decided at the Natural Resources Commission level, then it cannot be made scientifically,” Michigan United Conservation Clubs grassroots and public relations manager Drew YoungeDyke said.”Keep in mind that the legislature passes an act making an animal a game species–that’s still subject to referendum by the people–but that decision would be a political decision made at the legislature.  When it’s made at the Natural Resources Commission, then it’s made on a sound scientific basis.  The way that they do that is they take the recommendations and testimony from professional biologists such as the ones at the DNR.  They’ll bring in outside experts.  They have to submit memos and contain that evidence, so they really sit like a jury listening to the scientific evidence about whether or not we should have certain game seasons or limits.”

The proposed act would also allocate funds for the Asian carp issue, which Warren says is already funded both by the Great Lakes Initiative federally and by a state budget allocation.  YoungeDyke adds that this additional $1 million will restore money that was cut from Governor Rick Snyder’s initial budget for management of aquatic invasive species.

Adding fund allocation to the act would also prevent it from being challenged via future referendums.  Additionally, the act removes the one dollar fee for military personnel to obtain hunting and fishing licenses.

“Within Michigan, we are allocated money through this federal funding of Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johson based on the number of paid licenses,” Warren added. “Well, currently military pay a dollar and that counts as a paid license. So, the latest initiative wants to remove that dollar fee. I think they included that provision because it sounds good to the general public. Let’s give active military personnel – let’s support our active military by giving them a free license when they were only paying a dollar for it.”

YoungeDyke claims this loss will be mitigated by Public Act 108 of 2013, which increased license fees for hunters and anglers.  “Because we increased the contribution that hunters, anglers, and trappers make to conservation in Michigan, that way more than makes up for any amount that would be lost through that one dollar previously that was for active duty military members,” he said.

The legislature has the option to adopt or reject such a proposal initiated by petition from citizens before it goes to the people.  If the legislature does nothing with the proposal for 40 days, the decision is sent back to the voters on the general election ballot.

The Senate will discuss the proposal Wednesday.  The House will do the same later this month.