January 14, 2014

Sierra Club: Let Voters Decide Wildlife Issues

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE        More information:
News from the Sierra Club                   Marvin Roberson 906-350-0288
Tuesday, January 14, 2014         

Sierra Club:  Let Voters Decide Wildlife Issues
Conservation Group Defends Keeping Wolves, Others Issues Subject To Ballot

LANSING—Michigan Sierra Club has endorsed keeping voters involved in the state’s wildlife decision-making by announcing its support for one citizen petition drive and opposing another, both of which are linked to Michigan’s controversial wolf hunt.

Michigan Sierra Club’s 18-member Executive Committee voted unanimously to support a petition drive undertaken by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected to repeal Public Act 21 of 2013 and to oppose a separate effort launched recently by Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) to block voters from having a say over hunting and other wildlife decisions.  

“Many citizens do not want wolves hunted. We believe they should have a voice,” said Marvin Roberson, Michigan Sierra Club Forest Ecologist.  “We believe that the values of a majority of Michigan citizens should be heard on this and future wildlife issues.”

Conservation organizations have historically advocated for keeping the voice of the public in natural resource management decisions because wildlife and other state natural resources are owned by Michigan’s citizens.

Both current petition drives were launched in the wake of the successful effort by Keep Michigan Wolves Protected to give voters an opportunity to ban wolf hunting.  The group early last year gathered enough petition signatures to place the question before voters this November. But moves by the Legislature, Gov. Rick Snyder and most recently MUCC are attempting to thwart any vote to ban wolf hunting.   The MUCC-sponsored citizen initiative, called Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, would go a step further and place all future decision-making on hunting and other wildlife issues entirely in the hands of Lansing lawmakers and the politically appointed Michigan Natural Resources Commission and out of the hands of voters. 

“Our leadership from throughout the state felt strongly that stewardship of Michigan’s natural resources and wildlife has a long tradition of being held in the public trust and that removing voters from any decision-making in how these resources are managed is not the Michigan way,” said David Holtz, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Chair.  “Those who are working to take democracy out of wildlife protection would like us to believe this is all about science.  It’s not about science. It’s about politics and privilege.  Michigan’s natural resources belong to the people, not to politicians or special interests.”

In 2012, the Michigan Legislature passed Public Act 520, which added the wolf to the list of game species in Michigan.  Sierra Club opposed the legislation because had failed to follow through on commitments under the state’s wolf management plan to begin scientific studies related to proper management of the wolf.  Almost immediately upon passage of PA 520, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected launched a petition drive. The petition drive succeeded in collecting enough signatures to place a referendum on PA 520 on the ballot in 2014. This would have allowed Michigan voters to either approve or overturn the legislative decision to add wolves to the list of game species.

However, in a move clearly designed solely to thwart any vote on wolves as a game species, the Legislature passed and Gov. Snyder signed into law Public Act 21 of 2013. This allowed the Natural Resources Commission to add species to the game list as well as the Legislature. It also gave the NRC sole authority over issues regarding fisheries management. Keep Michigan Wolves Protected then initiated a second referendum petition challenging PA 21 to reverse this bald-faced move to thwart a legitimate vote of the people on the referendum to repeal PA 520. 

The citizens initiative petition drive launched by MUCC is identical to PA 21 except that it includes a $1 million appropriation.  As a citizen’s initiative MUCC is seeking to collect enough signatures to bring this measure directly to the Legislature, which can approve the initiative without going to a vote of the people.  The inclusion of an appropriation in this measure also means the provisions transferring authority to the NRC to set game and fish species in the citizen’s initiative would remove any opportunity for referendum and a vote of the people. Decisions by the NRC are not subject to referendum by the voters. This would have the practical effect of making the outcome of a 2014 vote on Keep Michigan Wolves Protected petition drive to ban wolf hunting meaningless.

The Sierra Club is the nation’s largest grassroots environmental organization, with over 150,000 members and supporters in Michigan.