When the big bad wolf wasn’t a wolf in first place

The story was untrue, fabricated and misleading – much like the fairy tale. Unfortunately, the Big Bad Wolf in this story isn’t a wolf at all.

Earlier this month, Michigan Sen. Tom Casperson R-Escanaba, acknowledged he put false information about wolf sightings into his 2011 resolution that resulted in stripping gray wolves of endangered species protections. That’s what paved the way for Michigan’s first wolf hunt in nearly 40 years taking place right now in parts of the Upper Peninsula.

So it’s Casperson, not the wolf, who is the villain of this story.

Supporters of Michigan’s wolf population – which the DNR estimates at 658 – say the numbers are healthy and secure. They insist a hunt is needed to rein in a predator that has killed or injured hundreds of cattle, sheep and dogs since the mid-1990s.

Opponents say the damage and danger of Michigan wolves are exaggerated – much like Casperson’s resolution. They report relatively few farms have experienced problems and the landowners already have legal authority to shoot wolves caught attacking livestock.

But we’re not debating whether a hunt is right or wrong for Michigan. The real issue is that the hunt should have been left up to voters in the first place. And now – with the truth out there – voters should get a say whether or not there’s a second hunt.

Casperson’s resolution cited an incident in Ironwood which stated “wolves appeared multiple times in the backyard of a daycare center shortly after the children were allowed outside to play. Federal agents disposed of three wolves in that backyard because of the potential danger to the children.”

But on a Nov. 8 post on Casperson’s Facebook page, the senator writes, “But as it turns out, children were not in the backyard as the resolution implied. Nor were the wolves killed in the backyard of the daycare. Rather, three wolves were indeed eventually killed in the vicinity.”

“I was mistaken, I am accountable, and I am sorry,” Casperson said. …

He added that he still supports the resolution he sent to Congress, despite the fact it contained factual errors.

A wolf hunt should have been left to voters from the beginning, but the public’s voice was stripped away last summer when the Michigan Legislature, with Casperson leading the charge, bypassed an opposition petition with enough signatures that would have forced a vote. Instead, the legislature gave the authority to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, which scheduled a hunt following approval of a bill designating wolves as a game species. Previously, only the legislature could do that.

Then, soon after that measure was signed into law, the commission approved this year’s hunt. That effectively negated the efforts of opponents trying to get the issue on the ballot, since even if a majority voted to block the first law, the commission would still hold authority to put wolves on the list of approved game species.

In this whole process, it’s questionable whether the commission listened to all the facts since they refused to hear testimony from many of the opponents, including biological scientists who opposed the hunt.

Since then, opponents have gathered enough voter signatures to require a statewide referendum in 2014 on the game species law. They’re also circulating petitions seeking a vote on the second measure. If they succeed, this year’s hunt may be the only one.

This hunt has become a debacle and an embarrassment for the state of Michigan.

Casperson cried wolf and pushed for a hunt using misinformation that when strung together, amounts to the accuracy level of a fairy tale. Then lawmakers – seemingly in fear of the big, bad electorate – stripped voters of their right to decide on a hunt. Finally, the Natural Resources Commission failed to take into account all the facts, let alone listen to all sides of the debate.

It’s time for Casperson and other politicians to do the right thing and give voters a chance to speak their mind and decide on who is the villain of this story.