How many times do voters need to howl before legislature gets the message?

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.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Michael Kiella
Sat, 12/10/2016 - 9:11pm
80th District Representative Mary Whiteford sits on the Natural Resources Committee. She is a breath of fresh air in Lansing, and a rising star in the House. I have seen her in the field at Department of Natural Resource field offices investigating for the benefit of her constituents. I trust that she and others on the House Committee will be able to manage any further bills arriving from the Senate and Mr. Casperson. Let him write all the bills he wants...and let's depend on the wisdom of leadership to keep them in committee.
Jerry Taylor
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 6:01am
I am a part-time resident of Baraga County and have been for most of the past 40 years. And I hope to become a full time resident soon. When the DNR professionals determined that the wolf population was adequate to allow culling by hunters, my property was within the region where hunting was allowed. My presence there pre-dates the presence of the imported wolf population. I did not hunt wolves then and I don't plan to in the future if a lawful season is re-established. They probably don't taste very good. I have never seen a wolf on my property and I hope never to see one. I have seen scat and other evidence of wolves on my property, and I have seen much evidence of them on nearby public lands. I think its kind of neat that there are some wolves in the area. I also think its possible that any species can alter the ecological balance if its population gets out of hand, and I suspect that is especially true for predatory species. I don't know enough about wolf biology or ecology to know what a proper balance is regarding wolves in Baraga County. I trust biological professionals to make that determination. I understand that the DNR employs a few of those folks. I hope that my fellow voters and their representatives will trust the judgment of those professionals and not tie their hands with philosophical or emotional arguments. While I may or may not agree with them, I understand the desire of many people to treat animals with respect. I hope those people will treat me and my neighbors in rural areas with equal respect. I do not want any wolves on my property. They don't mix well with my grandchildren and several other things on my property that I hold dear. Should I see one, and I have the opportunity, I will shoot it. Because it is against the law to kill wolves, I will not try to kill it. Instead, I will shoot it in the abdomen or legs, thus ensuring that it runs away. Hopefully, far, far away. It will likely die, and while I wish that it wouldn't die (my goal is simply to make it go away and not come back onto my property - which can't be accomplished with a mere warning shot), there is a risk that might happen. If it dies, the death will likely happen slowly and painfully, either from the wound or because of the reduced ability of the injured predator to obtain food by killing other animals. The above technique for removing wolves from private property is well known and is widely and openly discussed by many people who live in wolf country. I'm sharing it here so that my fellow voters who don't live in wolf country are made aware of it. It seems to me that just about anything that reduces the population of wolves to a level that is sustainable and minimizes their likelihood of entering private property would be more humane than what I just described. If wildlife and similar biological professionals feel that the population has grown to the point that lawful hunting can occur, then I submit that lawful hunting would be more humane than what I just described. And it may be effective in making sure the population gets reduced to the point where I don't have resort to my technique for keeping wolves off of my property. For those who are philosophically opposed to lawful hunting, especially of wolves, you may want to consider an alternative solution. It likely would be expensive, but it can be done. This technique was used to establish a wolf population near my property. Simply live trap as many wolves as you can and release them to roam around your home or the homes of others who would like to have a wolf population in their vicinity. Just like it was done around mine. I'm sure the DNR's biological professionals will authorize that if it is truly humane and they may even assist. Think about all the ramifications before tying the hands of biological professionals.
Mon, 12/12/2016 - 1:33pm
Hi Jerry, The endangered species act prohibits killing, shooting, trapping, wounding, pursuing, baiting, and just about anything else one may think to do with a wild animal other than gazing at a distance when you happen upon them. So if you're going to shoot it, may as well kill it, since (legally anyway) the "I didn't mean to kill it" defense won't fly. Early on in this debate, I was relatively indifferent to this. It seemed like a crazy republican idea, but not dangerous like something about guns or abortion. I'm a hunter, but with no interest in hunting wolves. I can appreciate (kinda, though wolf/human interactions of ANY kind seem pretty rare) the safety concerns. But at the end of the day that's not what this is about. It's about Rs forcing their lunacy on everyone, regardless of the will of the people. They used the same tactics to try to end straight ticket voting. And that is much more important to me than the fate of some dirty rat-dogs (no offense intended to any wolves who may be reading this).
Wed, 12/14/2016 - 12:39pm
I really can't understand the reasoning of wounding a wolf and letting it die later absolves you of any legal or ethical wrong doing. But I guess that will be up to your jury to decide.
Chuck Jordan
Sun, 12/11/2016 - 12:37pm
Since when do Michigan legislators care what people in Michigan think? They know better than us. We need to find a way to stop their adding an appropriation to overturn the will of the people. Why do they have a problem with democracy?
Tue, 12/13/2016 - 11:09am
Let's please leave the management of wildlife to the trained professionals we (as taxpayers of the state of Michigan) hire! While I respect the right of voters in a democracy to express their opinion via the ballot box, in the case of wildlife management (and similar issues, such as forest management), we are well-served by professionals who devote their careers to making decisions which will maintain a reasonable balance between wildlife and humans. As a resident of the UP who has seen a few wolves and seen signs of many more, I love the idea that there are wolves in our area. But I also own hunting dogs, and have worry about them interacting with wolves even when they are within my sight. (We're talking bird dogs here, not hounds that hunt far away from their handlers). There have been numerous incidents of dogs of all sizes being killed in their backyards, let alone dogs that range far afield while hunting. I am not worried about wolf attacks on humans; like most predators, wolves will avoid humans as much as they can. But the impact on livestock and pets is growing, and I want to see decisions regarding wolves made by trained professionals, not by voters (most of whom live hundreds of miles from wolves other than the ones in their local zoo) who vote based on emotion rather than logic and reason. Many of these same voters, if given the opportunity, would likely vote against hunting those beautiful, big-eyed deer and bunnies -- and let's not even start with mourning doves. And please, Humane Society, please devote yourselves to the worthy goal of helping insure humane treatment of dogs, cats, and other pets, and stop trying to eliminate hunting a little bit at a time.
Wed, 12/14/2016 - 12:34pm
LH, except that wildlife professionals most familiar with wolves and their relationships to each other and their environment recognize there is a big difference between apex predators and other prey species like deer, rabbits, etc. Unfortunately, the NRC does not consist entirely of this expertise and also mixes political professionals into the mix. So you cannot say it is leaving this decision solely in the hands of wildlife professionals. Additionally, just as some don't like being labeled as a racist because of bad judgement of a few, similar consideration should be given that anyone opposing wolf hunts doesn't mean they are anti-hunting.
Wed, 12/14/2016 - 12:37pm
Hunters and trappers should be managed as they are a threat to our wildlife. Hunters are anti-wildlife terrorists.
Thu, 12/15/2016 - 8:08am
That seems a bit harsh, Mike. Without much of an economic incentive or subsistence need, hunters aren't going to wipe out wildlife (e.g. Dodo, quagga, passanger pigeon). In short, the numbers don't support the claim that hunters are much of the threat, and managing the impact of hunting is (or should be, anyway) one of the primary goals of state institutions like the MDNR. I understand how craziness like this wolf thing can make hunters seem like threats, but this seems to have more to do with the lunatics in the legislature rather than hunters as a whole. Sure, hunters kill animals. But it's largely illegal to sell what you harvest and few people (a very small minority in the US, my grandpa and some Alsakans pretty much) have diets that rely on bush meat. The real threats to wildlife are things like habitat destruction and pollution, problems WE ALL have a role in. Further, as a hunter who would self-identify as very liberal and concerned about the planet, I think being dismissive of hunters is to alienate a potentially important constituency in the fight to preserve the planet. I mean, where else are you going to find any republicans who give a shit about nature?
Mon, 12/19/2016 - 11:36am

Hey Mike, hunters and trappers are managed. We have seasons, bag limits, and areas where certain species or genders (does, for example), may not be taken. Through license fees, hunters make a huge contribution to the DNR's coffers, money that supports habitat improvement and other efforts. In addition, many hunters belong to organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Wildlife Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, etc., and through these organizations partners with state and federal governments to fund projects that otherwise could not be completed.