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Politics & Government

Ballot Questions Not The Final Word On Wolf

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Michigan voters will get to weigh in on two laws that allowed wolf hunting in the Upper Peninsula.

The Humane Society just started airing ads aimed at persuading voters in the closing days of the campaign season. But whether people vote “yes” or “no” on wolf hunting, the two ballot questions are not the final word on the issue.              

The Michigan Public Radio Network’s Rick Pluta explains.

In the last century, the gray wolf almost disappeared, having been hunted and trapped to the edge of extinction. But a long-term recovery is showing results, and a few years ago, the federal government took the gray wolf off its list of Midwestern endangered species.

Like Wisconsin and Minnesota, Michigan quickly allowed wolf hunting. And groups like the Humane Society acted quickly in Michigan to oppose it.

Wayne Pacelle is the president of the Humane Society of the United States.

       “This is where the bullets are flying, so to speak,” he says.  “Wisconsin and Minnesota, which also have very aggressive hunting and trapping programs, don’t have the initiative and referendum process, so this will be the first place where wolf management, trophy hunting of wolves, is on the ballot.”

       It started with a law adopted four years ago by the Legislature and Governor Rick Snyder to allow a gray wolf hunting season. That law was suspended by a petition drive that put the question on the ballot. To get around that, the Legislature adopted a second law. That law drew a second petition challenge, which is also on the November ballot.

Drew YoungDyke says hunters were sick and tired of seeing wildlife management issues on the ballot.

       “The way the system in Michigan is set up right now, anybody with enough money can get on the ballot for any issue,” he says.

Voters have been called upon over the years to decide whether hunting mourning doves should be allowed, whether bear hunters should be allowed to use dogs and bait, and who should make decisions about hunting seasons.

YoungDyke is with a pro-hunting coalition called the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management,” he says.  “Our groups believe the that the final decision about whether an animal should be  game species, or whether it should be hunted, should be based on the recommendations of Michigan’s professional wildlife biologists. If it’s decided on the general statewide ballot, that’s not being decided by the biologists.”

This group launched its own petition drive. It put the issue before the Legislature again. And the Legislature, for the third time, adopted a law to allow wolf hunting. This new law also puts the authority for future hunting decisions with state wildlife officials. Their decisions – and this new law, which takes effect in March – cannot be challenged via a referendum. That’s regardless of how the November election shakes out.   

Which makes the referendum campaign as much about the political maneuvering that took place to get a wolf hunting season as the issue itself. Again, the Humane Society’s Wayne Pacelle.

“It’s also about this abuse of power by the Legislature – it’s attempt to subvert a fair vote on this issue by the people of Michigan,” he says.  “Crying wolf when it’s really a Lansing power grab” … “the smiling politicians are crying wolf…”

And it’s why the Humane Society and other groups in the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected coalition are spending a million and a half dollars on some very anti-politician TV ads to air between now and Election Day.           

If they succeed in getting voters to say “no” to both laws, their next stop is court, where they hope a judge will rule the law is too broad, encompassing too many subjects.

So, in November, voters will get to have their say on the matter of wolf hunting. But another question is whether their say will matter.

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