Letter from Living With Wolves, P.O. Box 896, Sun Valley, Idaho 83353
Letter of April 25, 2013
Reprinted by request.
The Honorable Richard D. Snyder
Governor of the State of Michigan
Olds Plaza, Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Dear Governor Snyder:
For more than 100 years, the constitution of the state of Michigan has granted proud and informed Michiganders the right to referendum and a voice in the legislative process, keeping the people involved, when necessary, in many of the important decisions that govern their state. This is a history of government and democratic process everyone in Michigan can take pride in.
Currently the state of Michigan also requires the elected legislature to determine whether or not to designate an animal as a game species before handing game management responsibilities over to the appointed (rather than elected) Natural Resource Commission. This process ensures that the appointed commission will only establish hunting seasons on animals that legislators and, by extension, the people, feel should be hunted.
This process also maintains some accountability to Michigan voters, ensuring them a voice in the management of their wildlife. Thus, when Senator Tom Casperson’s bill passed late last year, designating the gray wolf as a game species eligible to be hunted, the people of Michigan rallied in opposition.
With the help and organizational efforts of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and other concerned groups, Michiganders turned to their right to a referendum via petition. Over the course of 67 days in mid-winter, 253,705 signatures were collected, more than 50 percent above the mark required to bring the issue of wolf hunting to a vote by the people. Once the state’s Board of Canvassers verifies the signatures, that vote would be scheduled for November 2014, unless the people’s will is successfully hijacked by politics.
Only two weeks after the people of Michigan submitted the signatures, invoking their right to a referendum, the same state senator, Casperson, countered with another bill, SB 288. This time, Casperson manufactured a loophole that would effectively disenfranchise Michigan voters, rendering the referendum and the voices and efforts of so many voters moot.
This is no longer just about wolves. Once the referendum process threatened to stop his original wolf bill in its tracks, Casperson broadened the scope of his attack with legislation that includes all potential game species. SB 288 would prevent the people from having any say in which animals should be designated as game, by granting that authority to the discretion of the appointed (not elected) Natural Resource Commission. His new bill would overturn the actions of the people of Michigan after they successfully exercised their right to have a voice in the management of their wildlife.
The desire has been clearly expressed. Michigan voters want the right to decide whether or not the state should engage in a public, recreational hunting season on wolves. They do not want or deserve legislation that will circumnavigate Michigan’s constitution, disenfranchise the people you represent, and forever silence each Michigander’s ability to have a voice on decisions about their wildlife.
Coming from the West, where the wolf is a politically contentious subject, I encourage you to see through the fog of political maneuvering. Allow the referendum process to run the course it has historically served to carry out the will and interests of Michiganders since 1908. Passing legislation that would deny the people this constitutional right should only be done out of dire necessity, not to serve fabricated political ends. In this case, no such necessity is defensible.
Two of the top wolf scientists in the nation live in Michigan and conduct their research there: Dr. Rolf Peterson and Dr. John Vucetich. Dr. Peterson has studied Michigan wolves for 43 years. They could provide invaluable counsel on the subject of wolves and how they function within the ecosystems of Michigan. It would be important to consult with them and have their opinions aired.*
Over the past two years, Michigan’s wolf population has dropped without the implementation of a public, recreational wolf-hunting season. Therefore, introducing a hunting season to keep the wolf population in check appears unsupportable, as the population already appears to be self-regulating.
The population of 658 wolves (a decline from 687 since the last count) that lives largely in the Upper Peninsula pales in comparison to the state’s populations of bear, bobcat and coyote. Michigan is home to roughly 18,000 black bears, 27 times the population of wolves, yet Senator Casperson is cultivating fear and generating misinformation by claiming that the UP is "inundated with wolves."
The impact this comparatively small population of wolves has on the deer population is negligible and likely benefits the health of the deer. Through the collaborative hunting strategy employed by wolves (one that statistically targets the weak), wolves serve as the best defense to the spread of brainworm, a disease the Michigan Department of Natural Resources is very familiar with.
Over the past three years, the livestock losses Michigan farmers attribute to wolves have remained roughly the same. Combined losses of cattle and sheep were 65 animals in 2010, 53 in 2011 and 54 in 2012. Over those same three years, between 38 percent and 57 percent of the statewide losses came from one farm alone. Clearly the situation of that particular farm warrants special attention to help that particular farmer.
Michigan farmers are allowed to shoot wolves that are attacking their livestock. And, should a farmer lose one of his animals to wolves, the farmer can apply for a permit to
lethally remove wolves on his/her property. These are appropriate measures in a landscape shared with wolves. But these measures are already in place.
A public, recreational hunt would likely do nothing to help the isolated locations where farmers are challenged by wolves. Recreation is the only purpose of such a hunt. People do not eat wolf. And hunting wolves may result in unforeseen problems. Hunting would unavoidably break up packs, the vast majority of which are not in conflict with farmers. Tearing apart the social fabric that holds a family of wolves together will result in the disintegration of packs, the social unit that defines the wolf and provides the collaboration they rely upon for survival.
The wolves documented, and subsequently eliminated, in Ironwood simply followed their prey into town, continuing to feed on deer, but also reportedly feeding on garbage. No animals, especially carnivores, should develop an association of food with humans. Large carnivores do not belong in towns and, as with marauding bears, government agents handled the situation in Ironwood. In the case where wolves or bears may sometimes be seen within town limits, those situations can be addressed as they have been. They do not require a public hunt.
As is the case for all wolves in the lower 48 states, there have been no hostile encounters between people and wolves in Michigan. Statistics from across North America (Canada and Alaska included) demonstrate that wolves are much less of a threat to people than bears or most large mammals, including those that are not predators. Most Michiganders do not live in mortal fear of black bears (or deer for that matter), but they do respect them and tend to act accordingly where their homes overlap with wildlife habitat.
This was not the first time Michigan voters chose to vote whether or not to hold a hunting season on a particular animal. In 2006, Michiganders used the referendum process to let voters decide if the state should allow a public, recreational hunt of mourning doves. The will of the people became clear with a resounding 69 percent of voters voting against the measure.
The people of Michigan have spoken again. They want to vote. Allow the people of Michigan to decide. Allow them to vote on this issue, as they have so clearly demonstrated the will to do so. You, their governor, are their voice. The political machine will undoubtedly drop this ball in your lap if you don’t intervene and convince the legislature to stop this assault on the people’s right to referendum.
Stand up for the people and the constitution of the great state of Michigan that defines and defends the rights of Michiganders, or step away from the people and side with legislation, spearheaded by a single individual. Please help stop this legislation and, if it reaches your desk, please veto this bill and uphold the voter’s right to referendum as guaranteed by the constitution of the state of Michigan.
Program Director, Living with Wolves,
a 501c3 NON-PROFIT CORPORATION,
email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.livingwithwolves.org
*Editor's Note: See: "Letter from John Vucetich, wildlife ecologist: Reasons to oppose SB288."
See also comments from Rolf Peterson in "Scientists, wildlife advocates ask legislators to consider science in wolf management."
For more information visit Keep Michigan Wolves Protected. Since this letter was written, SB 288 was passed by both the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House. Click here for the enrolled bill that awaits Gov. Snyder's signature.
Click here for phone numbers if you wish to contact Gov. Snyder's office.