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Wolf hunt protection measure clears final step

September 2, 2014

The House Wednesday afternoon signed off on a measure that protects the possibility of an Upper Peninsula wolf hunt for the foreseeable future and takes the steam out of two referendums that aim to halt the hunts. 

After about an hour of debate on the House floor, members voted 65-43 to give the final sign off on a citizen initiative that would protect the Legislature and Natural Resources Commission’s (NRC) abilities to designate wolves and other animals as game species. 

Nine Democrats voted with 56 Republicans in support of the initiative. And all three lawmakers from the U.P. — one Republican and two Democrats — voted for it. 

Before the vote, Rep. Ed MCBROOM (R-Vulcan) said wolves were changing people’s ways of life in the U.P. The wolves’ attacks on livestock were an example McBroom used. 

“We need your help,” McBroom told his colleagues. 

The House’s vote today neuters the impact of two referendums, which challenged two previously passed wolf hunting protection laws. Both referendums will remain on the November ballots. 

Debbie Munson BADINI, spokesperson for the Department of Natural Resources, said if voters reject the previously passed laws on Election Day, the state would be prevented from having wolf hunts until the new initiative took effect 90 days after sine die. That puts the implementation of the citizens initiative at late March. 

If the referendums failed, technically, Badini said the NRC could move toward allowing a wolf hunt. 

“Scientifically, I don’t know if that would happen,” she said. 

However, the organization Keep Michigan Wolves Protected pledged today to challenge the new initiative, which includes an appropriation, in court. 

“The wolf hunt referendums will still be on the Nov. 4 statewide ballot and we’ll continue urging voters to vote no on both referendums to stop wolf hunting and maintain voter rights,” said Jill FRITZ, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. “In the meantime, the good news is that Michigan’s wolves will be saved from the hunt this year.” 

Today’s vote came two weeks after the Senate approved the initiative and came just days before the House’s deadline, Sept. 2, to act. 

It also came after two years of debate and policy moves from hunters and animal rights advocates, who stood on different sides of whether the wolf hunts should be allowed or not. 

Even today, there were opposing protests on the Capitol lawn. A group of about 100 people held a press conference to oppose the initiative this morning. Meanwhile, a group of about a dozen hunters held signs asking lawmakers to approve the so-called “Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act” (SFWCA). 

One of those hunters, Stan TARKOWSKI, of Mattawan, said he’s been a hunter since 1953. 

“I think we ought to manage our game and fish by scientific methods,” he said. “Let’s pay the professionals. Let them do their jobs.” 

The idea of letting the public weigh in on the hunts just wasn’t proper, according to Tarkowski, who helped gather some of the signatures that produced the citizen initiative. 

“What some of the anti’s want to do is akin to you getting violently sick, then asking your neighbors instead of going to the doctor,” he explained. 

Richard GARNAAT, of Lawton, stood near Tarkowski and held a bright orange sign that read, “Vote yes on SFWCA.” 

Garnaat said the Department of Natural Resources has been handling the animal management decisions for years. 

“I think they need to continue doing the job that they are doing,” he said. “I think they’re doing a great job. I don’t think they need to be told how to run things.” 

About 50 feet away, the organization Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, which spearheaded the challenges to the previous two laws on wolf hunting, was holding its press conference. 

One of the featured speakers was Rep. Vicki BARNETT (D-Farmington Hills), who spoke out in support of letting the public decide. 

“If they were so certain that this is the correct way for Michigan to go, what do they have to lose by letting the people of the state of Michigan vote?” she told the crowd. 

She continued, “They know they’re wrong, so they’re using loopholes and tricks in order to circumvent your constitutional rights. And I won’t stand for it.” 

Many Democrats have argued that the wolf hunting initiative is the latest in a pattern of moves by the Legislature to circumvent public votes on big issues. 

Other examples, they say, are the emergency manager law and the initiative to restrict how insurance coverage for abortions is purchased. 

David HOLTZ, chair of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, said under the state’s Constitution, the people have the right to vote. The Legislature, he said, should “stop interfering in fair elections.” 

As he said this afternoon, “We are asking House members to reject this blatant power grab by the Senate and help restore people’s trust in their government.” 

The Senate approved the initiative in a 23-10 vote on Aug. 13 (See “Senate Says Yes To Wolf Hunting Initiative,” 8/13/14). 

On the House floor today, supporters of the initiative argued that wolf hunting was merited in U.P. because of the threat the animals pose while opponents countered that lawmakers should let the public decide. 

Rep. Kevin DALEY (R-Lum), chair of the House Agriculture Committee, said he received a call today from a motel owner who had seen a wolf standing his motel’s parking lot. 

The wolves, which Daley said have attacked other animals, could move on to attacking humans. 

“We’re going to end up having some people get hurt,” Daley said. 

However, Rep. Andy SCHOR (D-Lansing) laid out the opposition case. 

“I keep hearing that 350,000 people signed petitions for this so we should vote on it,” Schor said. “That’s disingenuous.” 

Schor said a half of a million people signed petitions to send the previous laws to the ballot. He continued, “And we should send it the ballot and let the people decide.” 

Three Republicans voted against the initiative today. They were Reps. Mike CALLTON (R-Nashville), Martin HOWRYLAK (R-Troy) and Mike MCCREADY(R-Bloomfield Hills). 

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