Wolf bill signed

MARQUETTE – Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation Wednesday that allows the Michigan Natural Resources Commission – in addition to the state Legislature – to add species to the list of state game animals, including the gray wolf.

The measure clears the way for establishing a wolf hunt, despite a referendum campaign mounted against it. A vote by the NRC on a wolf hunt recommendation from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is expected today.

Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, introduced the legislation signed by Snyder. Casperson said Senate Bills 288 and 289 build upon voter-approved policy from 1996’s Proposal G, which saw nearly 70 percent of voters express their desire that the NRC have exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game, and the commission use sound scientific management in making decisions to the greatest extent practicable.

Additionally, as part of the process, the NRC has to issue orders and provide the public with an opportunity to provide public input before any decision is made, thereby ensuring that the voice of Michigan citizens is heard, Casperson said.

“These new laws reaffirm the people’s desire for Michigan’s wildlife to be managed using scientific, objective standards,” said Casperson. “Sound management through the use of methods including hunting and fishing is extremely important for the health of our natural resources and for the preservation of our way of life in Michigan.”

Casperson’s legislation undercuts a statewide referendum sought by opponents of wolf hunting. Those opponents have gathered more than 250,000 signatures on petitions seeking a vote on whether to reverse a separate measure lawmakers approved in December that designated the wolf as a game species and authorized a hunt.

If enough signatures are determined to be valid, the issue will be placed on a 2014 election ballot. But the new law makes the referendum ineffective because, regardless of the outcome, the commission will have the power to allow wolf hunting.

Last month, DNR division chiefs recommended the NRC schedule a two-month hunt this fall. The panel was discussing the matter Wednesday during its monthly meeting in Roscommon and is expected to make a decision today.

An opposition coalition called Keep Michigan Wolves Protected urged commissioners to wait until voters have had their say next year.

“Michigan’s 7.4 million registered voters would be discounted if the NRC doesn’t respect the will of the people,” said Jill Fritz, the group’s director. “Legislative chicanery must not allow democratic principles to be circumvented and place Michigan’s fragile wolf population at risk.”

The recommended wolf hunt would be a limited hunt aimed at reducing wolf conflicts in areas where non-lethal measures have proved ineffective. DNR officials recommended harvesting a total of 43 wolves from three wolf management areas.

The DNR chiefs’ recommendation was recently revised dropping the harvest quota from 47 to 43 – to include the latest wolf population winter survey results, which showed the minimum number of wolves in the Upper Peninsula had dipped from 687 in 2012 to 658 this year.

The objectives of the hunt are to reduce the numbers of nuisance wolf complaints and chronic livestock and dog depredations.

NRC members consulted Wednesday with wolf researchers and officials with the Minnesota and Wisconsin departments of natural resources, which oversaw hunts this past winter in those two states.

Snyder said the legislation helps “ensure sound scientific and biological principles guide decisions about management of game in Michigan.”

“Scientifically managed hunts are essential to successful wildlife management and bolstering abundant, healthy and thriving populations,” Snyder said.

Casperson’s legislation also includes right-to-hunt-and-fish language in state statute to recognize their importance for the conservation, preservation and management of the state’s natural resources; provides complimentary hunting opportunities for active military service members and allows the NRC to regulate the taking of fish as they regulate the taking of game.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.