A committee seeking to protect Michigan’s wolf hunt submitted a petition with over 374,00 signatures earlier this week in an effort to head off November ballot initiatives that would ban hunting of the predator in the Great Lake State. On Tuesday, Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management (CPWM) dropped off boxes filled with thousands of signed petitions on the steps of the Secretary of State building in Lansing, where CPWM Chairman Merle Shepard addressed supporters.
“These signatures are the first step to pass The Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act,” Shepard said in the Tuesday press conference.
If approved by the state legislature, the act proposed by the CPWM petition will leave the power to designate game species in the hands of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, effectively preempting the anti-wolf hunt ballots. The act will also appropriate $1 million for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to combat invasive Asian carp and allow active duty members of the military to apply for free fishing, hunting, and trapping licences. If lawmakers reject the act, the initiative will also be placed on the November ballot for Michigan voters to weigh in on.
There are currently more than 600 wolves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The state launched its first wolf hunting season last year to widespread opposition from animal rights groups. Groups such as Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP) accused the Natural Resources Commission of abusing its power and taking away the decision from voters. Spearheaded by the KMWP, animal rights activists launched two separate petitions to bring wolf hunting to a halt. In response, hunters and supporters of the season struck back with their own campaign to protect it. According to MLive.com, both sides have raised more than $1.9 million to put the issue on the November ballot.
“Our state’s professional wildlife biologists know what they’re doing, and our petition will make sure that they’re the ones making wildlife management decisions, rather than radical out-of-state special interest groups,” said CPWM spokesperson Drew YoungeDyke in a press release.
When the CPWM started the petition drive late last year, its intial goal was for 258,000 signatures. The initiative still has to be approved by the Board of State Canvassers before it reaches the legislature, but animal rights activists are already urging lawmakers to reject the measure.
“This is now the third ballot measure on wolves and wildlife protection, and the people should be allowed to vote on them,” stated Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. “In an election year, we call on Michigan legislators to stop playing games with voters and stop trying to circumvent a fair election on this issue. It’s time to stop this abuse of power.”
The CPWM on accuses out-of-state groups of bankrolling a campaign to take away hunting rights.
“The anti-hunters are collecting signatures to take away hunting rights and turn Michigan conservation decisions over to whoever buys the most television commercials,” the CPWM states on its website. “We’re collecting signatures to protect hunting and fishing rights and make sure that our fish and wildlife are managed by sound science, not sound bites.”
State elections director Chris Thomas told The Detroit News that if all three petitions appear on the November ballot, the one with the most votes would win.
You can see a video of Shepard’s statement in Lansing below: