Commentary: Hunting wolves

Apr 25, 2013

I don’t know whether it makes sense to ever allow people to hunt wolves in the Upper Peninsula or not. Nor do I have any strong emotional feeling about this. 

Personally, I don’t see killing things that can’t fight back as a sport. But I have also, years ago, interviewed farmers and ranchers who lost livestock to wolves.

I’m not sure whether it would be more dangerous to be a pen with a wolf or in a room with one of those ranchers if you told him you wanted to outlaw his right to hunt down wolves.

Lots of people, however, do have very strong feelings about this, and about bills now before the legislature that would allow the government to say what species could be hunted.

Not only that, the bill now in the senate would cleverly take away the people’s right to ever repeal this bill, or to designate a protected species, as the voters did with mourning doves a few years ago. That strikes me as unethical and unfair.

This bill, Senate Bill 288, could come up for a vote in the state senate as early as today. State Senator Thomas Casperson, a Republican from Escanaba, is its main sponsor.  He wants to make wolves a game animal.

You can make a case for this. After years of trying to nurture a once nearly extinct wolf population in Michigan, the state Department of Natural Resources thinks a controlled hunt in certain areas of the Upper Peninsula would be a good thing. There are now more than 650 wolves up north, and they want to allow about four dozen to be killed in areas where they may be threatening livestock and pets.

Historically, the legislature has always decided what animals could be hunted, unless people collected signatures for a successful ballot initiative. But Senator Casperson’s bill would turn that power over to the state Natural Resources Commission.

If it passes, it would mean the commission could designate any species a game animal, and there would be nothing we could do about it.

And he has insidiously stuck a $1 million appropriation in his bill, for one reason: Putting an appropriation in any bill means the public can’t change the law through a referendum.  

The Humane Society of the United States has been fighting hard against the Casperson bill, and a similar one in the state house. Jill Fritz, the society’s Michigan director, just turned in what she said was a quarter-million signatures to put a measure on next year’s ballot to repeal a law passed last year allowing wolf hunting. That happened after the federal government took wolves in this region off the endangered species list.

I don’t know whether it makes sense for the voters to repeal that law. I would like to hear from experts in conservation and wildlife management. But I do know that taking away the people’s right to hold a referendum on this is unfair and undemocratic, and that is precisely what Senator Casperson wants to do. For that reason alone, I think this bill should be rejected.

But I think legislators also ought to consider if they really want to give their power away to designate which species could be hunted. You never know when the political winds may change.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.