How will you vote on the statewide ballot issues—and does your vote matter?

Outcome of the wolf hunt ballot proposals holds no legal force.

This is first in a series discussing the ballot proposals and wolf management issues in Michigan. Further articles will give a background on wolf management, and on supporting and opposing arguments for and against the ballot proposals.                 

In the Nov. 4 general election, Michigan voters will decide on two state-wide ballot proposals, Proposition 14-1 and Proposition 14-2. Both are referenda of public acts (PA 520 of 2012 and PA 22 of 2013) which were passed to authorize wolf hunting in the state. These laws led to Michigan’s first wolf hunt, held in November and December 2013, in designated parts of the Upper Peninsula.

The ballot proposals were backed by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, a coalition of interests opposed to wolf hunting, with the goal of overturning the laws. Although both public acts have been suspended awaiting the outcome of the election, the Michigan Legislature recently approved a statutory initiative, re-enacting both public acts and authorizing a wolf hunt (For an explanation of the differences between referenda and initiated laws, see this Michigan State University Extension news article).

The statutory initiative was backed by Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, a coalition of hunting and conservation groups. The group gathered enough signatures to place the proposal before the Legislature; in August, the Legislature approved it, making it Initiated Law 1 of 2014, the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. If the Legislature had not taken a vote on the initiative, it would have been placed before the voters for approval or disapproval in the November general election. The Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act does the following:

  •  Requires the Legislature or Natural Resources Commission (NRC) to designate a wildlife species as game. Previously, only the Legislature could designate a species as game. The law states that Natural Resources Commission orders must be consistent with its duty to use sound science. The NRC may take testimony from DNR biologists and other experts to make decisions based on sound science.
  • Specifies that only the Legislature or NRC may establish the first open season for game; and declare that only the Legislature may remove wildlife from the game species list.

The Legislature attached a $1 million appropriation to the act to combat aquatic invasive species (The Michigan Constitution prohibits referenda on appropriation bills).

As a result, the outcome of the ballot initiatives—whether approved or voted down—will have no immediate legal bearing on whether or not wolves may be hunted.

However, the anti wolf hunting coalition has vowed to challenge the initiated law in court, claiming it is unconstitutional. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is urging voters to vote “No” on both proposals, in order to send a message to legislators about the wolf hunt and the process whereby wolves were designated as game species.

Indeed, the political mechanisms by which the Legislators and advocacy groups acted and re-acted to each other in order to advance their agendas brings to light the tensions inherent in a democratic republic. Who, after all, should have a say in decisions regarding the wildlife management in the state—voters themselves? Perhaps the legislature, as elected representatives of the people should make the final call. Another thought is that a body more removed from the political winds, such as the Natural Resources Commission, a bi-partisan panel of seven members appointed by the governor, should come up with a solution.

Regardless of the outcome of the election, there will not be a wolf hunt this fall and winter. The NRC has already stated it will not call a hunt for this season due to timing issues. The Michigan DNR is still authorized to create more specific rules and regulations regarding hunting and fishing, and to make recommendations to the Commission about game species.

A “yes” vote on both proposals demonstrates support for the wolf hunt and for the NRC to be the primary decision-making body about species hunted and fished for sport. A “no” vote on both proposals demonstrates opposition for wolf hunting and for the Natural Resources Commission to be the primary decision-making body when it comes to hunting and fishing.

Other articles in this series:

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