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Michigan Senate passes bill to create a Yoopers-only wolf council

wolf
Wolf advocates and foes are gearing up for a long and heated battle over whether Michigan should hunt wolves, after the animals lost federal Endangered Species Act protections this year. (Courtesy of Michigan DNR)

The Michigan Senate has cleared a bill that would allow only Yoopers to sit on a body that helps decide whether Michigan hunters can kill wolves, sending the legislation to the House of Representatives for further debate.

The bill, sponsored by Upper Peninsula Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, would limit participation on the state’s wolf management advisory council to U.P. residents. The Upper Peninsula has just 3 percent of Michigan’s humans, but all of its wolves.

It passed along party lines with Republican support, 19-16.

 

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McBroom contends the bill would justly give Yoopers more say over wolves, because Lower Peninsula residents don’t have to live alongside them. Just under 700 wolves roamed Michigan at last count, all of them in the Upper Peninsula.

“It shouldn’t be that controversial,” McBroom said, noting the council is merely an advisory body. “We don’t expect to put a whole bunch of yoopers on an advisory committee on elk or Detroit or something.”

But wolf advocates say the bill would tip the scales in favor of hunting wolves by cutting the vast majority of Michigan’s population out of a key body that helps shape wolf management policies.

Although the wolf management advisory council has no power to set policy, members of the appointed state Natural Resources Commission lean on the group for guidance as they decide how to manage Michigan’s wolves.

The commission is expected to decide in the coming months whether to allow hunters to target wolves, after the Trump administration last year ended federal Endangered Species Act protections that had banned recreational wolf hunting nationwide.

That shifted oversight to commissioners, who have said they plan to delay a decision on whether to allow a Michigan wolf hunt until the advisory council can update the state wolf management plan.

That process has yet to begin, as wolf advocates and foes spar over the council’s makeup.

Current law requires the council to include DNR Director Dan Eichinger or a designee, plus members representing conservation, hunting or fishing interests, tribal government, agriculture and animal advocacy. Members can come from any part of the state.

While McBroom’s bill wends its way through the legislature, wolf advocates are suing the state, arguing that the council’s existing makeup is stacked in favor of a wolf hunt.

The 06 Legacy, a wolf advocacy group based in Michigan, argues that Eichinger broke state law by appointing hunting advocates to positions on the Wolf Management Advisory Council that are reserved for agricultural and conservation interests.

Nancy Warren, a U.P. resident and executive director of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition, told Bridge Thursday she agrees with McBroom that the committee makeup needs to be changed, “but not in the ways that Senator McBroom is advocating.”

Instead, she said, the committee should include representation from wolf advocacy groups, and academic experts on wolves.

“Wildlife belongs to every state resident,” she said, not just U.P. residents. 

McBroom’s bill now heads to a Republican-led legislature whose members have been supportive of pro-hunting policy in the past. 

Spokespeople for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer did not immediately respond to a question Thursday on whether the governor is likely to sign the bill, should it reach her desk. McBroom said he doesn’t expect her to do so. 

“If it’s a partisan vote in the chamber, it’s going to be a partisan vote at the governor’s desk,” he said.

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