Groups sue to overturn SFWCA

Lansing — The recently enacted Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act is under attack.

The animal rights group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, with backing from the Humane Society of the United States – the largest anti-hunting organization in the country – announced in a statement on its website that it has filed a lawsuit in Lansing in the Michigan Court of Claims to overturn the state’s Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected claims the law violates the Michigan Constitution.

“The proponents of this misleading legislation combined several unrelated issues into the law such as funding for the control of Asian carp and free hunting licenses to members of the active military,” Jill Fritz, director of KMWP, said in the statement.

After Michigan wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list, the state Legislature passed a bill in 2012 that moved the gray wolf to the state’s game list, the first step in the state holding a management hunt for the apex predator. KMWP responded by collecting signatures to put a proposal on the November 2014 ballot to nullify that legislation.

The Legislature responded by passing another bill that gave the state Natural Resources Commission authority to name game animals, but HSUS and Keep Michigan Wolves Protected again collected signatures to force a public vote to overturn that legislation.

That action resulted in Michigan sportsmen and sportswomen forming the grass-roots organization Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, which  collected nearly 300,000 valid signatures to enact a citizen-initiated law process for passage of the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. By gathering such a large number of signatures, the act went directly to the state Legislature, which approved the measure.

Highlights of the SFWCA include:

  • The Legislature or bipartisan Natural Resources Commission may designate a wildlife species as game, but NRC orders must be consistent with its duty to use sound science.
  • The NRC may take testimony from DNR biologists and other experts, and review scientific literature and data to support its duty to use sound science.
  • Only the Legislature or NRC may establish the first open season for game.
  • Only the Legislature may remove wildlife from the game species list, but the NRC may decline to authorize a hunting season if it conflicts with sound science.
  • It declared that the conservation of fish and wildlife populations depend upon the wise use and sound scientific management of natural resources.
  • It allows active-duty members of the military to obtain hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses free of charge.
  • The Natural Resources Commission has the exclusive authority to regulate fishing, through the principles of sound science.
  • It appropriates $1 million to the DNR for rapid response, prevention, control, and/or elimination of aquatic invasive species, including Asian carp.

“We supported it (SFWCA) before and we continue to support it. I think it’s a good idea to have the Natural Resources Commission with authority over fish and wildlife decisions,” Russ Mason, DNR Wildlife Division chief, told Michigan Outdoor News. “People want to keep focussing on wolves, but that is not the issue. The issue is game and fish management.”

Mason touted the success of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which forms the foundation of game management in Michigan. Game and nongame animal populations are healthy and thriving across the state. Canada geese and wild turkeys, which were all but eliminated from the state by the early 1900s, have recovered and are flourishing.

“Why wouldn’t we want to strengthen a system that has worked flawlessly for over a century, unless you are against game and fish management?” Mason asks.

Fritz said the lawsuit is necessary even though a federal judge in December overturned the Obama administration’s decision to drop wolves in the Great Lakes region from the endangered species list.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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