A Republican-led Senate Committee in the Michigan legislature approved on Thursday a wolf hunting bill that cannot be overturned through a future referendum. According to the Associated Press, Senate Bill 288 contains a $1 million appropriation that prevents it from being blocked by referendums, such as those seen elsewhere in the country. The bill will empower the state’s Natural Resources Commission to designate game animals, providing the department with far more authority than previously.
Animal rights groups have long decried the hunting of wolves, which became the target of management programs after their delisting from the Endangered Species List last year. Gray wolves were previously the subject of federal protection programs that sought to return the species to their natural ranges after a dramatic decrease in their population. Recently, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service deemed the species sufficiently recovered and removed it from federal protection in early 2012. Over 161,000 signatures mark a petition by the group Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) to call for a referendum on a 2012 law that allowed a wolf season. The introduction of Senate Bill 288 is seen by opponents of wolf hunting as a move to circumvent the referendum before it gets to voters.
“We see this as an attempt to silence the will of the people,” said KMWP’s Scott Kaplan.
The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) views the wolves differently. The department conducted a series of public meetings last month across the state in which issues such as personal safety and depredation were discussed. The DNR believes that a wolf hunting season would be a valuable tool in managing the species. Local hunting organizations, such as the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) and the state’s Safari Club International (SCI) chapter, also recognize the need for a hunting season on scientific grounds.
“I would firmly believe that a regulated hunting and trapping season for wolves would be just that–it would be regulated,” MUCC’s Kent Wood told Michigan Radio. “And it would be the same thing: it would be looked at every year. You know, I think it’s also just sort of the same sort of false mindset that hunters want to get rid of these species. We don’t. First and foremost the goal is conservation.”