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Tuesday, Aug. 13 — A second referendum campaign to keep Michigan wolves off the state’s hunting list is just as much about politics as it is about conservation. The group behind the effort feels the referendum is necessary to protect wolves, as well as the rights of voters.
The Keep Michigan Wolves Protected committee is trying to add its second initiative to the November 2014 ballot. The group already submitted more than 250,000 signatures in March to temporarily suspend lame duck legislation that added grey wolves to Michigan’s game species list and put the decision before the voters in 2014.
However, Senate Bill 288, legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, and signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder in May, allowed the seven-member, governor-appointed Natural Resources Commission to designate game species. Shortly thereafter, the Commission created a grey-wolf hunting season for this year that will run from Nov. 15 to Dec. 31.
In the wake of the new legislation, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected launched another referendum campaign to overturn the law. Those supporting the referendum feel that Casperson’s legislation giving the NRC control over game species was a direct attempt to circumvent the group’s first ballot initiative.
“Ultimately it’s about protecting the wolves and other wildlife. But it’s also a response to this abuse of power by the state Legislature,” Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said at a kickoff event in Lansing Monday night. “This decision to pass a law to subvert the first referendum shows disrespect for the process and for the people.”
Pacelle said because the NRC is a non-elected body, it could add almost any animal to the game species list without voter approval. And its decisions would not be subject to a referendum by voters, he said.
“We can’t allow lawmakers to thumb their nose at the people,” he said. “And the way they fashioned their second law they’re not only putting wolves in peril, but they’ve given all authority to move animals from the protected list to the game species list to seven unelected members of the Natural Resources Commission.”
The group has until March 5 to turn in roughly 161,000 valid signatures to the Michigan Secretary of State to overturn SB 288. However, the group’s aim is to collect 225,000 signatures to ensure it gets the proper number of valid signatures.
For the first referendum, the group had 67 days to get enough signatures. With more than six months before the deadline, coalition organizers are confident they’ll get the number of signatures they need.
“I am absolutely certain we will far exceed that goal come next March,” said Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. She is also the Humane Society of the United States’ Michigan state director.
Grey wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List in January 2012 and have not roamed the Lower Peninsula since the early 20th century, Fritz said. In 2011, the grey wolf population in the Upper Peninsula was 687, Fritz said. More recently, those numbers have dropped to 658, she said.
Pacelle said the wolf hunt is an attempt to appeal to a “tiny fraction” of hunters who want a grey wolf as a trophy. While others say the wolves are a threat to livestock and pets, Pacelle said people are allowed by law to “kill or remove” any wolves that are attacking livestock or pets. He said farmers who lose livestock to wolf attacks are compensated by the Department of Natural Resources.
As for wolves attacking humans, Fritz said there has not been a documented wolf attack in the lower 48 states in 100 years.
Despite the referendums, there is nothing Keep Michigan Wolves Protected can do to stop the wolf hunt this year. The NRC approved the bagging of 43 wolves later this year with 1,200 hunting licenses available. Wolf hunting licenses will cost $100 for Michigan residents and $500 for everyone else.
Fritz said while there is nothing they can do about the wolf hunt this year, they hope a successful referendum campaign will make this the “first and the last” wolf hunting season in Michigan.