Legislation paves way for wolf hunting

Lansing — State lawmakers reacted to sportsmen’s concerns recently and passed legislation that would essentially reinforce Michigan’s voter-approved mandate to use sound science in game management, and derail a push to keep wildlife biologists from managing Michigan’s growing wolf population.

Senate bills 288 and 289 were approved by the Michigan Senate, 25-11 on April 25, and by the state House of Representatives on May 2, 72-38. The bills, if signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, would give the state Natural Resources Commission, in addition to the Legislature, authority to designate a species as a game animal; grant the NRC exclusive authority to regulate the taking of fish in Michigan (presently that authority rests with the DNR director); protect Michigan citizens’ right to hunt, fish, and take game; and provide free hunting and fishing licenses to active members of the military.

“We are extremely thrilled. It was incredible to work with partners, not only sportsmens groups, but nontraditional partners like Michigan Farm Bureau and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce,” Kent Wood, legislative affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, told Michigan Outdoor News. “This is something to be proud of. We need to consider this a victory for sportsmen and a sign of the impact sportsmen can have. It’s a victory for our heritage and a victory for our basic principles that science should lead game management, and hunting, fishing, and trapping should be part of that management.”

Backed by the Humane Society of the United States, the local group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected gathered nearly 250,000 signatures in an effort to force a public vote on wolf management in Michigan.

The group hopes to overturn legislation that put wolves on the list of game animals, thus eliminating in this case the use of hunting and trapping as tools to accomplish management goals.

If the legislation is signed into law by Snyder, the referendum would be a moot point, since the NRC could put wolves back on the game list if the legislation is overturned.

“What this really comes down to is sound science. It’s actually an extension of Proposal G, which was passed overwhelmingly by voters,” said Merle Shepard, a spokesperson for Safari Club International.

“In 1996, voters in Michigan said they wanted the DNR to use sound science, not ballot-box science, in making game-management decisions. This legislation reaffirms the use of science.”

The NRC is considering a proposal from the DNR to hold a  limited management wolf hunt next fall with a goal of killing a total of 43 animals. The recommendation calls for a hunt in three areas of the U.P. where wolf/human conflicts and depredation of livestock and pets persists despite the use of both non-lethal and lethal control measures.

“It’s our responsibility to be stewards of the land and to keep a healthy balance,” Shepard said. “People need to understand that they are still going to hear about wolves. They are still going to hear them howl in the wilderness and they will still, occasionally, see a wolf.

“The reason the Humane Society invested so much money in the referendum isn’t because they care about wolves,” he said. “It’s because it’s a fund-raiser for them. If they put $3 million into it and collect $6 million, then it’s a win for them. They really don’t care about wolves.”

According to a DNR survey conducted earlier this year, there’s a minimum of 658 wolves in the U.P. heading into spring, when pups are born.

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