Maine, Michigan Voters Go Opposite Directions on Wildlife Management

Published December 3, 2014

For the second time in ten years, voters in Maine rejected a ban on baiting, trapping, or hounding bears for hunting purposes. In Michigan, voters rejected two proposals to restart wolf hunts in the state, though the Michigan’s courts will ultimately decide whether their votes count.

In the 2014 midterm elections, by the time half of the precincts reported in on November 4, Maine’s “no” votes had secured an insurmountable 20,000-vote lead. Michigan’s Proposals 1 and 2 would have upheld the existing laws designating wolves as game animals and allowed the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to manage them as such, including setting hunting seasons for them. Both Michigan referenda were decisively defeated.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife publicly opposed the referendum, citing a need to control bear populations. Mark Latti, a spokesperson for the department, said the ban would have crippled their ability to control the state’s bear population, the largest east of the Mississippi.

“If the referendum passed, the bear population would have risen rapidly, and this would have led to more bear/human conflicts and would increase the likelihood of these conflicts becoming more severe in nature,” said Latti. “And once the bear population increased, it would be almost impossible to reduce bear numbers in suburban areas, due to the lack of open land for hunting and town ordinances that prohibit the discharge of firearms. This would have placed a greater burden on communities and private property owners.”

Concern over Livestock Attacks

There are an estimated 636 grey wolves in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, an increase from just six in the 1970s. The proposed hunts are aimed at reducing attacks on livestock which have increased dramatically as wolf populations have risen.

Despite the voter’s clear statement at the polls, their vote to ban wolf hunting may not count for much. In mid-2014, the Michigan state legislature passed a wolf-hunting, reaffirming the authority of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to name game species and establish hunting seasons. The law also included a $1 million appropriation for the DNR to fight invasive species. The appropriation prevents the law from being overturned through referendum.

Ongoing Court Challenges

The anti-hunt campaign, Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, a group funded by the Humane Society of the United States, announced it plans to challenge the law in court. The HSUS says the law is unconstitutional because it bundles two unrelated topics, wolf management and invasive species funding, arguably violating the state’s rule that a law must have one subject.

The HSUS also actively supported Maine’s bear-hunting referendum and spoke out against the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for publicly supporting the state’s existing management procedures in speeches and ads.

The HSUS sued in the Maine superior court, claiming the state’s involvement in the election was illegal. On October 22, the superior court ruled against the HSUS. HSUS announced it plans to appeal the decision.

Latti notes the department is funded through sales of hunting and fishing licenses and associated permits. “Perhaps the state court put it best when it ruled that not only is it legal for the department to advocate on this issue, but that ‘This statutory language expressly directs DIFW to advocate for its positions regarding wildlife management, including bear management,'” he said.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.