Right to hunt must be protected

Michigan’s first managed wolf hunt appears to have gone smoothly with little fanfare – except, of course, a whole lot of barking from opponents of the hunt.

The hunting season – which opened Nov. 15 and wrapped up Tuesday – ended with a harvest of 23 wolves, well below the quota of 43 set by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

The less than hoped for tally can be attributed to a few reasons, including the extremely cold temperatures, the majority of wolf license holders being downstate residents who firearm deer hunt in the Upper Peninsula and gave up wolf hunting following the firearm season and wolves being very difficult to hunt.

Two of the apparent reasons for a low harvest were borne out by Mackinac County hunter Terry Cece, who failed to connect but was excited for his son, Jared, 14, who downed a wolf in late November. The elder Cece said the cold weather negatively impacted his wolf hunting and that hunting the predators is difficult, adding he believed the harvest quota would have been met if trapping was allowed.

That has certainly been the case in the neighboring states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, where trapping is allowed and their respective wolf hunting seasons have resulted in much higher kill rates.

In Wisconsin, the total harvest was 257 wolves, which surpassed the overall harvest quota of 251 animals.

In Minnesota, 149 wolves were killed during the 2013 season, which was under the quota of 220.

So why didn’t Michigan allow trapping as was a legal harvest technique in Wisconsin and Minnesota, as well as western states? Because of what I said at the beginning of this column – opponents of the Michigan hunt have been very vocal.

It’s no secret that there is a highly organized effort led by anti-hunting and animal rights groups to make Michigan their battleground against the hunting of wolves.

We hear very little about the 257 wolves killed in Wisconsin or the 149 taken in Minnesota, but we hear a lot about how the Michigan hunt is being pushed by “trophy” hunters and other zealous individuals and organizations.

I see two reasons why Michigan has been chosen as the state where the big stand against hunting is being taken: The successful fight against having a Michigan dove hunting season in 2006 and the high percentage of state residents who live in urban areas, far from the woods and traditions that many of us grew up with.

These two factors are driving the relentless anti-wolf hunting efforts, which I believe influenced the DNR’s decision to not allow trapping of wolves in Michigan.

However, hunters and those who support scientific based wildlife management – as opposed to emotion-based management – are not sitting on their hands in the fight against hunting in Michigan.

Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management is in the midst of a statewide petition drive for a citizen-initiated law, called the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

Supporters of the initiative include the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance, Upper Peninsula Whitetails Association, U.P. Whitetails of Marquette County, Michigan Bear Hunters Association, Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers Association, Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, Michigan chapters of Safari Club International, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Michigan Bow Hunters, Michigan Steelhead and Salmon Anglers Association and numerous local conservation organizations from around the state, according to Tony Demboski, president of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance.

The coalition includes many of the same groups that pushed Proposal G in 1996, which is the voter-approved law letting the Michigan Natural Resources Commission regulate hunting.

This year’s petition effort would reaffirm that authority, as well as ensure that active military members can receive free hunting, fishing and trapping licenses, and that the NRC has the exclusive authority to issue fisheries orders. To support the NRC’s ability to manage fisheries, $1 million is appropriated so that the Department of Natural Resources can conduct rapid response activities necessary to prevent and eliminate aquatic invasive species like Asian carp.

The petition language was approved by the state Board of Canvassers on Dec. 2 and the coalition has 180 days from that date to obtain a minimum of 258,000 signatures of registered voters in the state.

Once the signatures are secured, the act would be presented to the state Legislature, which has shown support for the NRC having management authority in the past, including a bill designating wolves as a game species.

Opponents of that action have gathered enough voter signatures to require a statewide referendum on the game species law. They also are circulating petitions seeking a vote on the second measure that gave the commission the authority to decide which animals should be designated as game species that can be hunted.

As you can see there is a lot of jockeying going on over the issue of hunting in Michigan and I certainly hope the right to do so is strongly reaffirmed once and for all this year.

Editor’s note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270.