If you thought the political year was over, think again. The Michigan legislature is engaging in dangerous lame-duck politics and it deserves our attention. In this instance, it concerns the unusual, years-long obsession of a few lawmakers who want to clear a path for trophy hunters and commercial trappers to take the lives of too many of the state’s few hundred wolves.
Sen. Tom Casperson is pushing his fourth wolf-hunting bill in the state legislature. Yes, his fourth bill.
He’s been effective in moving this series of bills, but, at the same time, painfully ineffective.
In 2014, he engineered the passage of three wolf-hunting bills, each with slightly different provisions. Each one of them has since been nullified – two by the voters and, most recently, one by a Michigan appellate court.
The problem is, with two voter referendums in the rearview mirror, he’s working in direct contravention of the will of the state’s voters.
In 2014, voters were emphatic in rejecting both wolf-hunting measures. By 10 percentage points, voters rejected Proposal 1, a measure to declare wolves a game species and to allow a trophy-hunting season. An even larger percent of voters – 64 percent in all – opposed Proposal 2, which sought to give the Natural Resources Commission the opportunity to establish a hunting season on wolves. In fact, every single county in the Lower Peninsula (and Chippewa County in the Upper Peninsula) voted “no” on Proposal 2.
These were the first two public votes on the issue of wolf hunting in the nation, and, as a result, Michigan lawmakers are in the enviable position of being able to gauge with precision how their constituents feel about the election. If elections reflect the public will – and they surely do – it’s clear that the people of Michigan do not support the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves.
The third Casperson measure – which, among other provisions, also provided the authority for the NRC to set a season on wolves – was struck down by the courts just weeks ago because it contained provisions entirely separate from the wolf-hunting issue. The Michigan Court of Appeals rightly found that the measure was a “Trojan Horse” that cynically and unconstitutionally misled voters by touting unrelated benefits while “surreptitiously slipping (in)… a reenacting provision to ensure that regardless of the referenda votes …, wolves would be on the game species list.”
As recently underscored by a Michigan Department of Natural Resources/University of Notre Dame study, wolves play a significant role in the Great Lakes ecosystem by reducing unhealthy densities of deer, which in turn protects timber stocks and agriculture crops by reducing deer overbrowse. And by controlling deer populations, wolves can also help to mitigate the risk of car-deer collisions. Thus, wolves can benefit agriculture, public safety, water quality, and ecosystem health.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources already provides the state’s ranchers with fencing, fladry (rope with flapping flags), and guard animals to protect livestock from native carnivores, and has stated that these methods are highly effective. Michigan livestock owners are also compensated for confirmed or even suspected losses to wolves. Still, cases of wolves killing livestock in Michigan are extremely rare, amounting to just 0.0005 percent of livestock deaths in 2015.
Scientific studies have amply demonstrated that indiscriminate killing of wolves by hunting is not only ineffective at mitigating conflicts with livestock, it could even make those few problems worse. On the rare occasion when wolves have been spotted in populated areas of the Upper Peninsula, it has typically been the result of humans drawing them into town by feeding deer, wolves’ preferred prey. Even in those instances, the wolves did not threaten or harm humans.
And again, even though wolves in Michigan are currently protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, they can still be killed in the event that they actually pose a threat to humans. We should not let irrational fears or irresponsible human behavior justify the trophy hunting and trapping of this vital species.
Casperson had two of his bills overturned by citizens and one by the courts. What part of “no” does he not understand? A virtual flood of scientific studies in the past few years have made it abundantly clear: there is no justification for killing wolves simply for trophies, out of hatred, to protect livestock, or in a misguided attempt to boost prey species for hunters.
In 2014, along with the wolf referendums, Gov. Rick Snyder was on the ballot. He won a commanding win over Democrat Mark Schauer. Proposal 2 – which most closely resembles Casperson’s current bill – got close to 250,000 more “no” votes than Gov. Snyder got “yes” votes in his convincing win. That immense popular support for wolves should provide plenty of reason for the governor to send Casperson’s latest bill into the ash heap.