On November 4, Michigan voters will head to the polls and come face-to-face with two proposals regarding an animal that very few will ever encounter face-to-face in their lifetime. Proposal 1 and Proposal 2 on this year’s ballot in Michigan are referendums seeking to overturn legislation that was passed in 2012 and 2013 that authorized wolf hunting. Specifically, Proposal 1 is a referendum on Public Act 520 of 2012 that established a hunting season for wolves and authorized annual hunting seasons. Proposal 2 is a referendum on Public Act 21 of 2013 that granted the Natural Resource Commission the power to designate wolves and certain other animals as game without legislative action. A third law that was citizen-initiated and approved in August allowing future wolf hunts is not subject to referendum, but will not take effect until early 2015.
The grey wolf population in Michigan is estimated to be under 650. The entire grey wolf population in the state of Michigan is located in the Upper Peninsula. Following the removal of the grey wolf from the federal government’s endangered species list, 2013 marked the first wolf hunt in Michigan in 40 years. The DNR capped the inaugural hunt at 43 wolves resulting in the death of 22 wolves. The reason for declaring open season on wolves that many proponents of wolf hunting cite is the need to protect their livestock or dogs from wolves. Since 1996, over 500 combined dogs and livestock have been killed in the Upper Peninsula in verified wolf attacks. However, as previously reported in an investigative series on MLive (http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/11/michigans_wolf_hunt_how_half_t.html) many of the reasons cited for the legislation supporting the hunt in the first place were reportedly distorted, based on a series of half-truths and falsehoods. The Michigan Natural Resources Commission decided in September that there would be no hunt in 2014 no matter what happens on November 4 at the polls.
What people may or may not realize is that in 2008, the Michigan Legislature approved Public Act 290 and Public Act 318 that allow livestock or dog owners, or their designated agents, to remove, capture, or, if deemed necessary, use lethal means to destroy a wolf that is “in the act of preying upon” the owner’s livestock or dog(s). These state laws became effective in January 2012 when wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list. Since a wolf that is merely present near livestock and/or a dog does not trigger the authorized use of lethal control, one of the questions that appears to go unaddressed by Public Act 290 and 318 is what dog and livestock owners are to do in cases where a wolf is merely observing, surveying, or lurking near their dog and/or livestock. Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) biologists can provide assistance with the implementation of nonlethal control techniques to assist owners in proactively protecting their livestock and pets.
Despite the 2014 wolf hunt being put on hold due to the ballot initiatives and despite the fact that laws already exist to allow for the protection of livestock and pets, many see the hunting and killing of the grey wolf as their right. The DNR acknowledges that sentiment exists for the illegal killing of wolves in the Upper Peninsula and each year they are called upon to investigate a handful of incidents. A poacher under the current law can be found guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment of up to 90 days and fines up to $1,000. The DNR also maintains a 24/7 hotline, Report All Poaching, where violations can be reported.
Wolves were protected in Michigan for nearly 50 years after being hunted to the point of extinction. As recently as the early 1990s, there were only an estimated 20 wolves in all of Michigan. In spite of there being little in the way of hard scientific evidence to support what amounts to a trophy hunt for wolves, a small group (7) of political appointees are being given the authority to decide the fate of the state’s grey wolf population. What the Michigan Legislature needs to be addressing and that legislation regarding wolf hunting fails to do given the fixed periods of time individuals could hunt wolves, is what other options are available to property owners in the Upper Peninsula. In the meantime, on November 4, voters will be given the opportunity to lend their voices to 636 souls who cannot speak for themselves…636 souls who can only howl in protest.
Abigail Murray and Michael Rouvina are Michigan attorneys who focus their law practice on Animal Law, as well as Business Law, Family Law, Probate/Estate Planning, and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the law firm of Murray & Rouvina, PLC in Kalamazoo, MI. You can find more information at www.zoocitylawyers.com.