Wolf Supporters File Suit Challenging Law Intended to Undermine the Will of Michigan Voters
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected filed a lawsuit in Lansing in the Michigan Court of Claims to overturn the so-called Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act on the grounds that it violates the state’s constitution. The lawsuit challenges an underhanded legislative effort intended to overturn the result of two 2014 ballot measures through which Michigan voters soundly rejected sport hunting of wolves.
“The proponents of this misleading legislation combined several unrelated issues into the law such as funding for the control of Asian carp and free hunting licenses to members of the active military,” said Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. “It was a cynical and veiled attempt to prevent Michigan voters from having a say on hunting of wolves and other animals.”
In November 2014, Michigan voters overwhelmingly rejected two wolf hunting measures, including Proposal 2, which would have transferred authority to open new hunting seasons on protected species such as wolves to the unelected, politically-appointed Natural Resources Commission. Unlike laws enacted by the legislature, decisions of the Commission cannot be overturned by voters. Proposal 2 was rejected in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties, and in all 15 congressional districts. It received more than 1.8 million “no” votes – more votes than any statewide candidate who won election.
Tucked in among the many provisions of the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act was language reenacting Proposal 2 if rejected by voters, thereby transferring decision-making authority on important wildlife management issues to a panel of bureaucrats that is not accountable to the public. This purpose of the law was obscured by the law’s proponents in violation of the Michigan constitution.
Fritz said the lawsuit is necessary even though in December 2014, the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. reinstated protection of Great Lakes wolves under the Endangered Species Act, a decision resulting in a current ban on wolf hunting and trapping in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. “Some members of Congress are attempting a forced delisting of wolves and renewed hunting and trapping. It’s important to prevent the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act from taking effect so the decisions made by Michigan voters are honored once and for all, and that wolves remain protected. This unconstitutional law also gives the Natural Resources Commission unilateral authority over many protected species – not just wolves,” said Fritz.
The proponents of the misleadingly named Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act include the same politicians and state officials who exaggerated and even fabricated stories about wolf encounters with people in Michigan in order to justify opening a wolf hunting and trapping season. Nearly two-thirds of all wolf incidents in the U.P. occurred on a single farm, where the farmer baited wolves with cattle and deer carcasses.
This goes much further than wolves – it’s a power grab by politicians to take eliminate public participation in decisions relating to wildlife management. As a result of overreaching and unconstitutional law, new hunting seasons on sandhill cranes and other vulnerable and protected species could be created, and Michigan citizens would be powerless to reject such action.
• In December 2012, the Michigan legislature passed a wolf-hunting law (Public Act 520 of 2012) that was approved during the 2012 lame duck session and was based on fabricated stories about wolf incidents in the U.P.
• In March 2013, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected submitted more than 255,000 signatures to place Public Act 520 on the November 2014 ballot. This halted implementation of the law pending voter approval or disapproval.
• In May 2013, the Michigan legislature, ignoring the people, passed a second law (Public Act 21 of 2013) to give the political appointees on the Natural Resources Commission the power to designate game species, and thereby effectively eliminate citizens’ right to vote on important wildlife management issues.
• In March 2014, Keep Michigan Protected submitted more than 225,000 signatures to place Public Act 21 on the November 2014 ballot. This halted implementation of the law pending voter approval or disapproval.
• In August 2014, the Michigan legislature approved the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to prospectively reenact Public Act 520 and Public Act 21 in the event that voters rejected these laws in the November 2014 election. The petition sending the proposed law to the legislature did not clearly identify repeal of Public Act 520 and Public Act 21 as its purpose to individuals asked to sign the petition.
• Public Act 520 and Public Act 21 were placed on the November 2014 ballot, as Proposal 1 and Proposal 2, respectively. Voters repealed Proposal 1 (moving the wolf to the game species list) with a 55 percent “no” vote, and they defeated Proposal 2 (giving the unaccountable NRC the authority to decide which species can be hunted), with a 64 percent “no” vote.
• In a statewide poll of Michigan voters conducted after the November 2014 election, an overwhelming 85 percent of voters said that Michigan citizens should not lose their right to vote on wildlife issues, and two-thirds of voters say the Legislature and the NRC should heed the will of the people on wolf hunting. A majority of voters agree that wolf hunting is unnecessary because wolves are not hunted for food and because killing problem wolves is already allowed.
• In December 2014, U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell overturned an Obama administration rule and returned protection of Great Lakes wolves to the Endangered Species Act, a decision that resulted in a current ban on wolf hunting and trapping in Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. In response, the Obama administration appealed the court ruling and continues to maintain a separate proposed rule to delist wolves through the Lower 48 states, while pro-wolf hunting members of Congress have introduced bills to legislatively revoke ESA protections for wolves.
• Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, The Humane Society of the United States, Detroit Zoo, Detroit Audubon Society, the Sault Sainte Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and others have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downlist the wolf from endangered to threatened status. This would retain protections for wolves, which Michigan voters said they want, but also allow more flexibility in dealing with the occasional problem wolf that threatens livestock.