Michigan Senate votes to allow wolf hunting (again)

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan’s Republican-led Senate on Thursday fired the latest shot in the battle over wolf hunting, approving a bill that would allow a commission to designate wolves as a game species if they are ever removed from the federal endangered species list.

The legislation echoes a 2014 wolf law struck down last month by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which ruled the petition-initiated measure violated the state constitution’s “title-object clause” by also requiring free hunting licenses for military veterans.

“We’re removing that. We’re dealing with that issue with the courts,” said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba.

Casperson sponsored two earlier wolf hunting laws that voters overturned in 2014 after petition drives and campaigns funded primarily by the anti-hunting Humane Society of the United States. The new measure, like the law struck down last month, includes an appropriation making it immune from referendum.

“Is there an echo in here?” said Jill Fritz of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and the U.S. Humane Society. “We have heard this before. In 2014, the citizens of Michigan went to the polls and soundly rejected by a landslide vote almost the identical language of this bill.”

The new proposal, approved in a party-line 27-10 vote and now headed to the House, would not immediately allow wolf hunting in Michigan because a federal judge’s ruling placed gray wolves in the western Great Lakes states back on the endangered species list in late 2014.

If that status changed, however, the Natural Resources Commission could pave the way for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to declare a new wolf hunting season.

Michigan launched its first-ever wolf hunt in 2014, allowing a limited number of kills in three regions of the Upper Peninsula. But the voter referendums and court rulings derailed plans for subsequent seasons.

The new bill includes $1 million for the DNR to fight invasive species, including Asian Carp.

Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, proposed removing the appropriation to make the bill subject to possible voter referendum and argued against allowing “unelected” commissioners to designate game species.

Casperson suggested Michigan voters who rejected his previous wolf hunting laws were influenced by “propaganda” from the Humane Society.

“Congress needs to deal with it, and I believe they will deal with it, and this problem should go away,” said Casperson, referencing legislation that would attempt to strip federal protections for gray wolves.

The legislation would direct the commission to “use principles of sound scientific wildlife management” when considering a game species designation. But the Humane Society said Thursday that 41 “prominent scientists” sent a letter to Michigan legislators urging them to reject the new wolf hunting proposal.