July 8, 2014 at 11:43 pm

Wolf hunting opponents form coalition to push against legislative action blocking vote

Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States, left, talks about the 'Let Michigan Vote' coalition, pushing legislators not to vote on a bill to allow wolf hunts. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)

Lansing— Wolf hunting opponents are sounding the alarm about what they believe could be another effort by state lawmakers to pass legislation making their petition-initiated November ballot proposals meaningless.

The fear, they said Tuesday, is lawmakers will pass into law a competing initiative allowing wolf hunting to continue in Michigan. Backers of the pro-hunting initiative also went through citizen petition process, but their 374,000 signatures have yet to be certified by elections officials.

“The Legislature is allowed to do this, but it’s not good government,” said Humane Society of the United States President and CEO Wayne Pacelle. “It’s a subversion of the (democratic) process.”

Together with other advocacy groups, the Humane Society and an allied organization called Keep Wolves Protected announced they’re starting the “Let Michigan Vote” coalition to alert the public about “the Michigan Legislature’s continued sidestepping of the democratic process.”

The other groups include Common Cause and Progress Michigan, who say lawmakers have brazenly subverted the will of voters on issues such as wolf hunting, state emergency manager rules for local governments and right-to-work legislation passed in 2012.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, has said he wants to pass the pro-wolf hunting initiative this summer or fall. He led passage of previous legislation that bypassed a ballot proposition initiated through signatures collected by Keep Wolves Protected and the Humane Society.

The chief spokesman for Republican House Speaker Jase Bolger of Marshall declined to speculate on what would happen.

“We don't even have such an initiative before us, so it would be difficult to know what we would be voting on,” Bolger press secretary Ari Adler said Tuesday.

Once state election officials have reviewed and certified the signatures from the pro-wolf hunting petitions, the Legislature has 40 days to pass it into law or allow it to go before voters in November.

“Until the matter moves further through the process, there is nothing for us to do or say, so any alarms people are sounding are just to garner publicity for their cause,” Adler said.

Amber McCann, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Reader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, said members of that GOP caucus haven’t yet discussed the wolf hunting propositions.

Lawmakers also had the option of passing into law the second of two petition-initiated proposals from the anti-wolf hunting groups, but didn’t because the GOP majority favors continuing wolf hunts in Michigan.

Michigan’s first wolf hunt was held last fall and ended with the killing of 22 wolves, half the number targeted by state natural resources officials.

The pro-wolf hunting group, Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, turned in its petitions and signatures in late May. It’s made up of groups such as Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Michigan Bear Hunter Conservation and the Safari Club.

Its proposal would reaffirm the authority of the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to designate a game species, as it did last year in authorizing the first state wolf hunt in three zones of the Upper Peninsula.

Action on the proposal by the Legislature prior to the Nov. 4 election theoretically would trump two Keep Wolves Protected/Humane Society ballot proposals.

The Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management initiative also calls for a $1 million state appropriation toward keeping Asian carp out of the Great Lakes and for a reduction in the cost of fishing licenses for veterans from $1 to zero.

Those provisions, the Let Michigan Vote Coalition charges, have nothing to do with hunting and were thrown in to make the proposal immune to any further challenge by wolf hunting opponents. Generally, legislation containing appropriations can’t be overturned.

Legislative passage “would silence Michigan voters,” said Vicki Deisner, Midwest legislative director for the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is also in the coalition. She said all future hunting decisions would be left to “a panel of political appointees.”

The seven-member Michigan Natural Resources Commission is made up of governor’s appointees. It’s intended to provide citizen oversight for the Department of Natural Resources.

In a confusing set of developments for state voters, petitions have been turned in for three wolf hunting-related initiatives — two opposing it and one favoring it.

The first Keep Wolves Protected effort in 2013 was a referendum on a 2012 law passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder to allow wolf hunting.

That proposal will be on the ballot, although subsequent legislative action appears to make it moot. Lawmakers and Snyder hastily adopted legislation to put the Natural Resources Commission in charge of wolf hunting decisions, which led to last fall’s hunt.

Keep Wolves Protected then turned in a second batch of petitions this spring for a ballot initiative to counter the 2013 legislative action. That, too, will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

If the Legislature allows the pro-wolf hunting proposition to go before voters, rather than pass it into law, it will be the third wolf hunting proposal on the ballot.

The proposal gaining the most votes would win.

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