TRAVERSE CITY — Opponents of proposed Upper Peninsula wolf hunts are howling mad at a Michigan Senate bill they say silences the public’s voice.
Michele Wolf hopes people don’t get to hunt her namesake. She’s president of the For Animals Traverse City animal rights group, which helped gather hundreds of local signatures against the wolf hunts.
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected reported receiving 254,000 petition signatures. That’s more than enough to put the issue to a public vote in 2014.
But the petition could be rendered meaningless by Senate Bill 288. Sponsored by State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, the bill would give the state’s Natural Resources Commission, along with the legislature, final word on determining game species while only the legislature would have power to remove species from the list.
Proponents say it’s a step toward more scientific management of animal populations. The measure passed out of committee Thursday to the full Senate.
“I don’t understand why they’re being so relentless about this,” Wolf said. “They had (wolves) on the endangered list and then all (of a) sudden they’re on the game list.”
Passage of the bill would mean the wolf hunt — or, potentially, any type of animal hunt — can go forward even if a majority of voters oppose it. The legislation also includes a $1 million appropriation for game and fish management. Under state law, appropriations bills can’t be overturned by a referendum.
Marvin Roberson, forest policy specialist for the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, strongly criticized the bill for “circumventing democracy.”
“It’s the single most venal, antidemocratic bill ever,” he said.
Also Thursday, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources formally proposed a wolf hunt in three areas of the Upper Peninsula in November and December to let hunters kill up to 43 wolves. It estimates there are 658 wolves in the Upper Peninsula.
DNR Biologist Adam Bump told the Natural Resources Commission wolves were “chronic problems” for some livestock farmers in parts of the Upper Peninsula. He said the recommendation for a hunt would reduce potential conflicts between wolves and humans, but did acknowledge there could be a recreational component.
Bear Lake’s Darryl Burkhardt, who has hunted in the Upper Peninsula for 30 years, said he’s seen a change in the wildlife there as wolf populations recovered from near extinction.
“It’s just so quiet and dead, it’s just eerie,” he said, noting that the state legislature is famous for bypassing voters. “It’s just a marked difference from what it was years ago.”