The debate over whether Michigan should allow hunters to kill wolves in the Upper Peninsula is certainly worth having.
Opponents who say the state rushed to establish a hunt just weeks after the wolf was taken off the endangered species list are right that the state must take more time and hear from a lot more people before before establishing a hunt.
More alarming, however, is that the Legislature is also taking aim at Michigan voters and their constitutional right to petition by sticking a phony-baloney appropriation onto a wolf hunt bill to make the issue referendum-proof.
It’s an underhanded but legal tactic used by lawmakers to prevent voters from putting contentious issues on a future statewide ballot. The tactic is usually used in cases like this - issues that are likely to take a shellacking at the polls and by lawmakers who hold voters - and the referendum system - in contempt.
Under state law, appropriations bills can’t be overturned by a referendum, so tying a $1 million appropriation to the wolf bill takes the decision out of voters’ hands. The bill in question would give the state’s Natural Resources Commission, along with the Legislature, final say on which species are open to hunting; the bill would also give the Legislature the sole authority to remove species from the list.
That’s a total usurpation of the role of the outdoor professionals Michigan has long relied on to manage our resources and gives that power to state politicians, the absolutely last people we want making what should be science-based decisions.
Instead, lawmakers have opened the process to the lobbyists who seem to hold sway in Lansing these days.
A group called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected has already collected 254,000 signatures on petitions to put the issue to voters in 2014. That’s more than enough to gain ballot status, so lawmakers decided to stoop to the appropriations ploy to keep them at bay. That stinks.
This isn’t to say a limited wolf hunt in the Upper Peninsula isn’t good science. The Department of Natural Resources has formally proposed a wolf hunt in three areas of the UP to let hunters kill up to 43 of the estimated 658 wolves there. But the Legislature should have no role in that decision or be the sole arbiter of which species should be taken off the hunting list.
If the bill makes it to his desk, Gov. Rick Snyder should veto it. In the meantime, the next statewide petition effort should be deep-six the appropriations ploy once and for all.