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MI: Wolves Win Major Hunting Victory in Michigan Court

By: s.e. smith

After a protracted legal battle, wolves have once again come out on top in Michigan. The state’s court of appeals has ruled against a law that effectively authorized wolf hunting in 2014.

It’s not the first attempt to legalize wolf hunts in the state — despite the vociferous objections of the residents — and it likely won’t be the last. For the time being, however, Michigan’s estimated 630 wolves will live to howl another day, and that’s good news for animal rights.

After landing on the endangered species list in many states, wolves are still a sought-after game species, including for grotesquely inhumane aerial hunting.

In 2014, a group called Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management submitted an indirect statute that would have allowed the state to open up a wolf hunting season. Such statutes go to the legislature for approval, and if the legislature declines to act, they land on the ballot.

In this case, the legislature passed the measure, even though voters indicated they were opposed to wolf hunting on related ballot measures just a few months later. When it was appealed in 2015, a judge upheld it –but wildlife advocates weren’t ready to give up just yet.

Michigan’s small wolf population could ill-afford a hunting season, so activists set out to rethink the challenge to the law in an attempt to sway legal minds. The panel of judges who met to reconsider felt it was unconstitutional.

This wasn’t because they think wolves should be protected, but rather because of how the law was structured and the petition was circulated.

Critics argued that signature collectors focused on a “sweetener” that provided free hunting and fishing licenses for veterans, and failed to disclose what was in the legislation. Moreover, they claimed that the title didn’t accurately reflect the bill’s contents. They questioned whether the bill would have passed without that sweetener, claiming that the intent was unclear. Thus, it violated the “title-object clause” and should be struck down.

This creative approach illustrates that sometimes defending wildlife involves a circuitous route!

Bickering over legal matters comes with high stakes this year, as two separate states – Indiana and Kansas – voted affirmatively on “right to hunt” amendments to their state constitutions.

These laws require substantial effort to overturn, which is the whole point. Although they didn’t specify any changes to the laws surrounding hunting and fishing, they also made it much harder for the state to implement laws or regulations that might be perceived as limiting hunting or fishing rights. Supporters of such laws believe that hunting is an American value and tradition — but, opponents counter, so is protecting wildlife in a country with a crown jewel of a national parks system.

Questions about whether hunting is an absolute right are likely to come up more and more in legislatures and on the ballots. Given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s past attempts at delisting Great Lakes wolves, it’s likely that Michigan’s wolves may again find themselves on the firing line. And they’ll rely on humans to do the right thing.

While U.S. wolf populations may be on the rebound in some areas, advocates believe they still aren’t stable enough to support sport hunting — ethical debates aside. Some support what’s known as “downlisting,” which would allow for managed predator control of “problem wolves” without opening up recreational hunting.