On Wednesday the Michigan state Senate voted to pass the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, a citizen initiative that resulted from a petition with over 374,000 signatures earlier this year. If approved by the state legislature, the Act will appropriate $1 million for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to combat invasive Asian carp, provide free hunting, fishing, and trapping licenses to active military service-members, and controversially, leave the power of designating game species to the Natural Resources Commission. This would allow wildlife officials to override two referendums on the November ballot that challenges the state’s wolf hunt, a highly contentious issue among Michigan residents.
“This is a significant step that recognizes the efforts of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters to ensure that sound science is the deciding factor in fish and wildlife conservation decisions,” said Matt Evans, legislative affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. “Today, the Senate listened to the will of almost 300,000 of their constituents who exercised their constitutional right to propose legislation to their democratically-elected representatives.”
The initiative was spearheaded by the Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management (CPWM), which argued that Michigan’s wildlife management should be decided by DNR biologists, not animal rights groups such as Keep Michigan Wolves Protected (KMWP), which is the main opponent of wolf hunting in the state. Hunters harvested 23 wolves in Michigan’s inaugural season last year, which was the subject of much contention from animal rights groups such as KMWP and the Humane Society of the United States. Two separate petitions were launched to stop the wolf hunt, which opponents have called a blatant disregard of Michigan voters. KMWP director Jill Fritz also announced her opposition to the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act in May, calling the act an underhanded move to block the referendums.
“This is now the third ballot measure on wolves and wildlife protection, and the people should be allowed to vote on them,” said Fritz. “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.”
According to CPWM Chairman and former Safari Club president Merle Shepard however, the referendums are a thinly-veiled move to take away hunters’ rights in Michigan.
“The senate vote today is the first hurdle to ensure scientific management of our wildlife in Michigan is not violated by animal rights organizations,” Shepard said in a SCI press release. “Without this citizen-initiated legislation, fish and game decisions made by our state’s professional wildlife biologists will be subject to endless referendums run by out-of-state activists. The hunters and conservationists of Michigan now need our elected officials in the House of Representatives to pass SFWCA as it was intended by the citizens of the state.”
The Act now heads to the state House, where legislators have already begun debating over the issue. Due to the fact that it is a citizen-initiated proposal, no signature is required from Governor Rick Snyder for the Act to pass into law. Supporters of the Act now hope to get the legislation approved as quickly as possible to counter the effects of the anti-hunting proposals, which are set to hit the ballot in November.
“The Act ensures that decisions affecting the taking of fish and game are made using principles of sound scientific fish and wildlife management,” wrote Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation CEO David Allen. “It provides for free hunting, fishing and trapping licenses for active members of the military. It also provides appropriations for fisheries management activities within Michigan necessary for rapid response, prevention, control and/or elimination of aquatic invasive species, including Asian carp.”