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Will the effort to stop wolf hunt in Michigan be derailed?

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission meets about a wolf hunt in Michigan.
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio

The referendum effort to stop a wolf hunt in Michigan has been called "a radical agenda" by those opposed to it.

Now, new legislation introduced by State Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba) seeks to deflate that referendum drive.

The Michigan Legislature listed the wolf as a potential game species late last year. The group "Keep Michigan Wolves Protected" says they collected enough signatures to put the question in front of voters.

It could stop a wolf hunt from going forward until the voters decide. If it's approved for the ballot, voters wouldn't see the referendum until November 2014. But Sen. Casperson's legislation goes around this effort.

The proposed legislation would, once again, list the wolf as a game species, but this legislation could not be challenged by a voter referendum. That's because the legislation lists an appropriation.

If there's money attached to a bill, voters can't repeal the law by referendum.

You can read more on how that works in this post by Zoe Clark - How state lawmakers are making sure you can't repeal their laws

The full State Senate could vote on the bill as early as next week.

And another change... who gets to list game animals

The power to name an animal as a potential 'game species' is reserved for the Michigan Legislature only.

Michigan Senate Bill 288 would also grant that power to the state's Natural Resources Commission.

The Commission could list a species, but they couldn't remove one.

Here's the language from the bill - the proposed new language is in bold:

Sec. 40110. (1) Only the legislature or the commission may designate a species as game. If an animal is designated under this section by the legislature or commission as game, then only the legislature or commission may authorize the establishment of the first open season for that animal. Only the legislature may remove a species from the list of game. The commission shall exercise its authority under this subsection by issuing orders.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected calls the effort an "appalling power grab by politicians in Lansing."

From their webpage:

"...in a stunning assault on our voting rights, some politicians are trying to pass a bill to undermine the hard work of our volunteers. Senate Bill 288 would let an appointed commission of bureaucrats overturn the decisions of Michiganders and make it easier to reverse efforts like ours to protect wolves from trophy hunting. After all of our hard work to collect enough signatures, we can’t let politicians undermine our role in the democratic process."

The Michigan Humane Society also opposes the bill. The group led the petition drive to put the referendum on the ballot. The Humane Society's Jill Fritz said they're distressed the bill was introduced.

"[We] find it very interesting that it was introduced so soon after turning in more than a quarter-million Michigan voters expressing opposition to a wolf hunt in our state,” Fritz said.

Merle Shepard, with the hunting group Safari International, called the referendum effort to stop a wolf hunt in Michigan "ballot box biology."

"We have never had an animal that we’ve hunted go extinct. We’ve actually brought some animals back from endangered – like the wolf, and others – back to where there is viable populations, but all animals have to have some type of stewardship," said Shepard.

Senate Bill 288 is also paired up with Senate Bill 289. Together the bills are being referred to as "Scientific Wildlife Management Package."

In addition to the controversial measures around a wolf hunt, the bills seek to give active-duty military members free hunting licenses, they provide funding for conservation, and they establish "a right to hunt, fish, and trap," according to the Michigan United Conservation Club:

SB 289...adds the protection of the rights to hunt, fish and trap as a purpose of the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act.

Michigan's Natural Resources Commission is expected to approve a hunting season for wolves next month. Michigan Radio's Steve Carmody attended an NRC hearing today in Lansing.

He reports the Commission will recommend a harvest of 43 wolves, around 5 percent of the state's population.

Michigan has an estimated population of 658 wolves based on the latest 2012 survey. That's down from 687 wolves in 2011.

The wolf hunt would take place starting November 1. One MDNR expert at the hearing said the proposed hunt wouldn't put the wolf population at risk.

Other experts have said a hunt is unnecessary for controlling wolf populations.

Mark Brush was the station's Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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