Above: Demonstrators outside the state Capitol protest a vote by the House which would let hunting of wolves continue. The bill was approved. (Photos by Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Lansing— The state House approved Wednesday a petition-initiated law that allows Michigan wolf hunting to continue, but may not prevent a possible delay of this year’s hunt.
The measure appeared to make moot two ballot proposals sponsored by opponents of the hunt.
Moments after the vote, however, opponents vowed a court challenge of the new law.
The office of House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, also acknowledged a wolf hunt for this year could be delayed several months if the two anti-hunting proposals on the Nov. 4 ballot are approved by voters, since the new pro-hunting law passed by the House won’t take effect until next March or April — depending on when the legislature adjourns for the year in December.
The Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, a constitutionally permitted initiative from hunting advocates who circulated petitions, doesn’t need Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature to become law. The Republican-dominated Senate approved it earlier this month.
“We need your help,” pleaded Republican Rep. Ed McBroom of Vulcan in the far western Upper Peninsula, where emotions regarding the issue run high.
“Our entire peninsula is being affected” by incidents of wolves preying on farm animals and pets, McBroom said during the House debate, adding: “The people of the Upper Peninsula are asking us to answer the call.”
Joining the majority vote in favor of the proposal was another U.P. lawmaker, Democratic Rep. John Kivela of Marquette.
“This is a problem,” Kivela said. “There is (wolf) depredation going on. There are family pets being killed. Wolves are running around among the population.”
Many Democrats opposed the initiative, arguing voters should be allowed to decide this issue at the ballot box in November.
“Why do the politicians in Lansing think they know better than the people they work for?” Rep. Jeff Irwin of Ann Arbor asked in his speech urging rejection.
The proposal directs the governor-appointed Natural Resources Commission to continue deciding which animals are game species hunters can target. The commission approved one wolf hunt, in which 23 of the animals were killed last fall in the Upper Peninsula.
The vote is the latest example of the Republican-controlled Legislature approving a new law to circumvent an opposing ballot measure.
The last instance was in May, when Republicans and many Democrats agreed to eventually raise the state minimum wage in steps to $9.25 an hour, effectively taking the steam out of a proposed ballot measure to increase the rate to $10.10. The Raise Michigan $10.10 measure later was determined not to have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Wednesday’s 65-43 House vote closes a chapter of the often passionate dispute between defenders of Michigan’s hunting traditions and wolf protection activists.
But it’s not the end. Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, promised her group would legally challenge the new law.
She charged the initiative was “patently unconstitutional” because it “bundled together three unrelated measures” — wolf hunting, funds for battling invasive species as well as military member hunting and fishing licenses — violating a state single-issue ballot proposition requirement.
“This won’t affect our referendums in November,” she said. “We will have an organized campaign to urge voters to make sure they vote for both of them.”
If voters pass the referendum proposals, the Natural Resources Commission can’t approve another wolf hunt until the new law takes effect next year. If the referendums fail, said Bolger spokesman Ari Adler, the commission could approve a wolf hunt for later this year. Last year’s hunt didn’t start until Nov. 15.
About 100 wolf-hunt opponents and a dozen orange-vested backers of the measure demonstrated in front of the Capitol and watched from the House gallery during the voting.
The House just beat a Sept. 2 deadline, 40 days after petitions circulated by groups backing the initiative were certified by the state elections board. Without action, the initiative would have gone on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, joining the two anti-hunting measures.
Michigan’s constitution specifies that citizen initiatives go to a statewide vote if lawmakers don’t approve them.
House passage was another victory for hunters and groups such as Michigan United Conservation Clubs who argue wildlife management should be left to state game officers and biologists who report to the Natural Resources Commission, not decided by popular vote.
The new law also gives the Natural Resources Commission authority to issue fisheries orders and provides a $1 million “rapid-response” fund to battle aquatic invasive species such as Asian carp.
Adding appropriations to bills has been used to protect legislation from being overturned by referendums. The state Constitution allows electors to petition for votes that can uphold or strike down laws the Legislature passes, except those with specified state funding.
The pro-hunting ballot effort was put together by a coalition calling itself Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management. It invalidates or clouds the status of the two petition-backed proposals — scheduled for a Nov. 4 vote — seeking to ban wolf hunting.
Wolf hunt opponents last year collected enough signatures to mandate a referendum on 2012 legislation signed by Snyder allowing wolf hunting. A referendum gives voters a chance to overturn a law passed by the Legislature.
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, then led passage of a 2013 law, signed by Snyder, that transfers state game law authority from the Legislature to the Natural Resources Commission. The commission approved the first state wolf hunt in 75 years.
The hunt, in three Upper Peninsula zones, was designed to limit the wolf kill to 43 of the animals. The department subsequently said, based on its annual wolf survey, the state’s population of the animals hadn’t been harmed by the loss of 23.
Keep Wolves Protected this spring turned in a second batch of petitions calling for a vote to overturn the 2013 law.