The State of Michigan Court of Appeals this week sided with wolf protection advocates, and declared unconstitutional the Michigan legislature’s attempt to force a trophy-hunting and trapping season on the state’s small population of wolves. The ruling is the latest blow to the blatant and outrageous power grab by politicians to subvert the will of the people of Michigan and their decision-making authority. It also restores the people’s decision in two statewide votes that occurred in November 2014. Those votes overwhelmingly rejected killing wolves solely for their heads and fur.
In 2014, in the first-ever statewide votes related to wolf hunting in any state, Michigan voters sent a loud and clear message against a wolf-hunting season and against the Natural Resources Commission having unilateral authority to transfer any “protected” species to the “game species” list. Voters repealed Proposal 1 (moving the wolf to the game species list) with a 55 percent “no” vote, and they defeated Proposal 2 (giving the NRC the authority to decide which species can be hunted), with a 64 percent “no” vote. Proposal 2 was rejected in 69 of 83 counties, in a landslide verdict that said the NRC should not be able to open seasons on species. Michigan voters cast more than 1.8 million votes against Proposal 2—more votes than any other candidate for statewide office received in that same election.
It’s a story that had many twists and turns – perhaps more than any in my 20-year history of organized animal advocacy. State legislators, in their haste to circumvent a citizen’s referendum on wolf hunting, tried to cut voters out of the decision-making process by handing over power to the NRC’s seven, partisan political appointees. In their arrogance, they tried to ram this through, believing they knew better than the voters. The ringleader of this fiasco – state Senator Tom Casperson -- was defeated in a Republican primary this year, partly because he was called out for intentionally misleading voters and fabricating stories to stir up a fear of wolves.
What the legislature tried to do was an abuse of power. It was their right to pass a bill to open up a trophy-hunting season for wolves. But there’s a constitutional process that allows voters to try to nullify that. The HSUS, HSLF, and our coalition partners through Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, including the Detroit Zoo, Detroit Audubon Society, and Native American tribes, led the fight to try to overturn their action, and that was Proposal 1. After we got hundreds of thousands of signatures, but before there was a statewide vote of the people, lawmakers passed a second wolf trophy-hunting measure – this time, by giving the NRC the authority to set a wolf season.
We were appalled by this abuse of power. But we rallied and launched a second petition drive, which became Proposal 2.
As we were gathering signatures for that measure, lawmakers worked with trophy-hunting groups to pass a third wolf-hunting measure – the convoluted measure that the Court of Appeals struck down today. That third measure included a clause that attempted to make that legislation immune from a referendum. Only our action in court cut down their attempt to disregard the interests of voters.
The Michigan Court of Appeals found that the legislature unconstitutionally bundled together multiple subjects in the bill, combining desirable provisions for waiving fees for hunting licenses, “while surreptitiously slipping inside” a legislative override of prior referenda votes and putting wolves on the game species list.
This case was just one of two major pending legal actions concerning the protection of wolves. In 2013, The HSUS filed a lawsuit in federal court to overturn a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that removed federal Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves living in the western Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. In December 2014, in a 111-page ruling, a federal court overturned that rule, holding that the agency misapplied the requirement in the ESA and failed to explain how the “virtually unregulated” killing of wolves by states in the Great Lakes region does not constitute a continued threat to the species. The federal government appealed that case and a decision is expected in the next several months.
We and our partners have been fighting in the courts, in state legislatures, and in Congress, to prevent the trophy hunting and commercial trapping of hundreds of wolves. As Aaron Payment, chairperson of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians and newly elected president of the United Tribes of Michigan, said, “The Three Fires people ~ the Anishinabek are hunters, gatherers and fishers. However, an enduring value is that you ‘take what you need and leave the rest’. We don't hunt our Brother Mae-ungun (wolf) because to do so is only for sport.”
The people of Michigan understood it’s unnecessary to hunt wolves because people don’t eat the animals and because it’s already legal to kill problem wolves. The people of Michigan don’t want trophy hunting, trapping, or hounding of wolves; they don’t want more legislative tricks; and they don’t want to cede authority to an unelected group of political appointees. This week’s state ruling restores the will of the people in Michigan, and combined with the federal court ruling draws a line in the sand against the persecution of wolves.
It should also be a wake-up call to lawmakers in other states and in Congress. This was the first statewide vote on wolf hunting in any state since wolves were stripped of their federal protections in six states. Decision makers across the Great Lakes and Northern Rockies should pay attention to this vote in Michigan and see how regular citizens feel about the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves.
In the meantime, we can today be thankful that both state and federal courts have sided with us in making sure federal protection remains in place for wolves in the Great Lakes, and that Michigan’s democratic process is not subverted in favor of cruel wolf hunting and trapping that the voters have twice rejected at the ballot box. It’s time to respect the will of the people.