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Hunting, Wolves and Political Power

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Hunting, Wolves and Political Power

By Bee Friedlander, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
May 2013

In an editorial "Targeting Wolves and Muzzling Voters," the Detroit Free Press succinctly sums up the bill, saying it would "simultaneously weaken protection for Michigan wolves and pre-empt a popular vote on the issue is an insult to both sensible environmental stewardship and democratic fair play."

Activity here in Michigan this past month related to hunting, wolves and political power demonstrates once again two principles that have allowed me to continue advocating for animals year after year, through good times and bad. First, never take anything for granted. Second, keep your emotions on an even keel and don't let the victories get you too high or the defeats too low.

Last month I wrote about a successful campaign in Michigan this past winter which collected over a quarter million signatures from state voters to allow a referendum on whether wolves should be hunted. Now it seems that this effort, and the voices of some 253,705 Michiganders may be ignored in what the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign calls "political chicanery."

In early April, less than two weeks after the campaign delivered the signatures to the Secretary of State but before authorities had met to certify that the required number (approximately 162,000) of valid signatures had been collected, S.B. 288 (and related bills, called the "Scientific Wildlife Management" package) was introduced by the same state senator who sponsored the bill adding wolves to the game list. This legislation is a game-changer, not just for determining who can be hunted in Michigan, but who gets to decide who can be hunted. Until now, the legislature has had exclusive authority to designate game species (which it exercised in late 2012 when it added the wolf to the list). S.B. 288 provides that the state's Natural Resources Commission will have joint authority to also name species which can be hunted. The NRC is a 7-member body appointed by the governor and not subject to voter recall.

This bill has been on the fast track through the Michigan legislature, passing both houses and now on the governor's desk. Several amendments toned down the bill: one stripped an appropriation that would have made it referendum-proof. Another exempted the mourning dove from being hunted--that bird itself having been spared from a hunting season by a successful referendum in 2006 which overturned a law that had added these creatures to the game list.

wolf, wolves hunting, politics
(Cartoon: Mike Thompson, Detroit Free Press)

Supporters of the bill give two main reasons. First, they say, the decision of what species to hunt should be made on the basis of science, not emotions or politics. A corollary is that the people who oppose hunting wolves (or oppose further removing the decision on who to hunt from input from the voters) are acting from emotional and/or political reasons. Of note is the almost hysterical tone of some proponents who would have you believe that wolves are running amok in the towns and cities of the Upper Peninsula. In fact, there is no evidence that the regulations in place which allow the shooting of wolves who are causing problems to people or animals, are not working.

Second is chauvinism. Only people in the Upper Peninsula (where most experts agree that the wolf population in the state is concentrated) should be able to decide whether to hunt wolves. Yet the Keep Wolves Protected Campaign collected signatures from all 83 counties, including the 15 in the Upper Peninsula.

In an editorial "Targeting Wolves and Muzzling Voters," the Detroit Free Press succinctly sums up the bill, saying it would "simultaneously weaken protection for Michigan wolves and pre-empt a popular vote on the issue is an insult to both sensible environmental stewardship and democratic fair play."