Jonathan Oosting , Detroit News Lansing Bureau
Lansing — A pack of howls broke out late Wednesday on the floor of the Michigan House as legislators gave final approval to a plan that would allow wolf hunting to return if the animal is ever taken off the federal endangered species list.
The legislation, now heading to the desk of Gov. Rick Snyder, is the latest shot in a years-long battle over Michigan wolf hunting. The measure passed the Republican-led House in a 69-39 vote, mostly along party lines.
Sponsoring Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba Republican who was seen wearing a wolf-skin hat in the Capitol earlier Wednesday, sponsored two earlier wolf hunting laws overturned by voters in 2014 following petition drives largely backed by the Humane Society of the United States.
“We didn’t have the money to counter, but we still have the problem up there,” Capserson said last week, referencing fears over human safety and livestock attacks in the Upper Peninsula, home to all of the state’s estimated 618 wolves. “It’s severe. Something’s going to happen one way or another.”
The Michigan Court of Appeals struck down a third wolf hunting law last month, ruling the petition-initiated measure violated the state constitution’s “title-object clause” by also requiring free hunting licenses for military veterans. The new measure, like the law struck down last month, includes an appropriation making it immune from referendum.
“How many times do we have to say this? No means no,” Jill Fritz of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected and the U.S. Humane Society told The Detroit News last week. “The citizens of Michigan have rejected this issue over and over again, and now the courts.”
Michigan launched its first-ever wolf hunt in 2013, allowing a limited number of kills in three regions of the Upper Peninsula upon recommendation from state Department of Natural Resources.
But the voter referendums and court rulings derailed plans for subsequent seasons, and a federal court ruling put western Great Lakes states gray wolves back on the endangered species list in late 2014.
If that status changes, however, the legislation would allow the Natural Resources Commission to designate wolves as a game species using “principles of sound scientific wildlife management,” which could pave the way for a new wolf hunting season.
The U.S. Humane Society last week released an open letter signed by British anthropologist Jane Goodall and other scientists and scholars urging legislators to reject the new wolf hunting proposal.
“There is no question about the importance of human safety and livestock,” they wrote. “However, sound science clearly indicates that wolves are not a threat to human safety and that wolf hunting is not a sensible means of protecting either human safety or livestock, especially given the small number of livestock that are actually killed in a typical year in Michigan.”