LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) - Michigan lawmakers are looking to shift the power of deciding which animals -- including gray wolves -- can be hunted from the legislature to the Department of Natural Resources.
The sponsors of Senate Bill 288 say the issue is about science and believe the Michigan DNR's Natural Resources Commission is better suited than the legislature to determine if an animal like a wolf should be placed on the state's gaming list, meaning it can be hunted.
Animal rights activists, however, disagree.
Once gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list in 2012, legislation was passed allowing for them to be hunted in Michigan. The wolf population in Michigan sits at 658, mainly in the Upper Peninsula.
Since then, animal rights organizations like the Humane Society and Keep Michigan Wolves Protected have gathered more than 250,000 signatures to place a referendum on next year's ballot to repeal part of that law and stop the wolf hunt.
But Senate Bill 288 could override those ballot efforts and pave the way for wolf hunting as early as this fall.
Currently, adding a species to the gaming list has to go through the elected legislature. SB 288 would give that power exclusively to the Natural Resources Commission -- a seven-member, non-elected, governor-appointed panel.
"Basically, the Natural Resources Commission can continue to make these decisions so our wildlife in Michigan is managed based on sound science," said bill co-sponsor Sen. Dave Hildenbrand (R-Lowell). "We have a lot of data about the population, about disease control, about public safety and there's a lot of research being done on that for all of our species, all of our game all of our wildlife."
SB 288 would also, in effect, allow the NRC to override any ballot challenges put forth through a public referendum that could repeal the hunting of wolves. Animals rights groups say that silences the public's voice.
"We just turned in more than a quarter-million signatures to the Secretary of State's Office from Michigan voters saying that they do not want to see wolves hunted and trapped in our state, so in issues like this of great importance to citizens, they want to be able to use their voice to speak up," State Humane Society Director and Keep Michigan Wolves Protected member Jill Fritz told 24 Hour News 8 in a phone interview.
Hildenbrand said lawmakers are still tweaking SB 288 and plan to remove a controversial $1 million appropriation that would have prevented the public from challenging SB 288 itself later through ballot referendum.
But if SB 288 passes, the NRC will still hold public hearings. One is already scheduled for next month, during which members will vote on whether or not to hold a wolf hunt.
Even if SB 288 passes, the legislature will still hold the power to remove a species from the gaming list, though they cannot add one, DNR spokesman Ed Golden said. Even if an animal is added to the list, it does not mean they will for absolutely be open to hunt. The NRC will have to hold public hearings first.
Fritz also said there are already laws in place that will not be effected by SB 288 that allow farmers or residents to kill wolves that are actively attacking live stock or pets. This is another reason Keep Michigan Wolves Protects feels it is not necessary to allow an active hunt of wolves.
A vote is expected Thursday. If it passes in the Senate, it will go to the House for a vote.
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