By DAVID EGGERT | Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A pro-hunting coalition turned in 374,000 petition signatures to protect Michigan's ability to have more gray wolf hunts, proposing a law to override two November ballot issues intended to stop wolf hunting.
Once the measure backed by Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management is certified—the group needs 258,000 valid signatures—the Republican-led Legislature will have 40 days while in session to vote.
If lawmakers approve it, the November ballot issues would become moot. If legislators do not vote, voters will see three wolf-hunting related proposals in November.
Michigan held a wolf hunt last year, the first since the animal was placed on the endangered species list nearly 40 years ago.
Two Republican lawmakers from northern Michigan, Sen. Tom Casperson of Escanaba and Rep. Jon Bumstead of Newago, joined hunting groups to celebrate their signature-gathering effort. They plan to push their fellow legislators to approve it, likely in late summer.
Casperson said he fears opponents of wolf hunting, who helped collect signatures to repeal two 2013 laws that cleared the way for the first hunt, will successfully use “30-second sound bites'' in political ads to persuade downstate voters.
“I think what's happened is we've kind of awoken a sleeping giant … to keep our heritage and keep our way of life,'' he said of various hunting groups joining together to
The newest measure would reaffirm a 1996 voter-approved law letting the state Natural Resources Commission regulate hunting. It would allocate $1 million for “rapid response'' activities against aquatic invasive species such as Asian carp. Under state law, tacking on the appropriation would make the legislation immune from being overturned in a referendum.
Keep Michigan Wolves Protected Director Jill Fritz said the newest legislation feels like deja vu.
“This is now the third ballot measure on wolves and wildlife protection, and the people should be allowed to vote on them,'' she said. “In an election year, we call on Michigan legislators to stop playing games with voters and stop trying to circumvent a fair election on this issue. It's time to stop this abuse of power.''
The Natural Resources Commission scheduled a hunt under authority granted by the Legislature last summer, following approval of a bill designating wolves as a game species.
Opponents gathered enough voter signatures to require a statewide referendum on the game species law. Legislators then passed a second law giving the commission the authority to decide which animals should be designated as game species that can be hunted, prompting opponents to collect enough signatures for a second referendum.