On May 8, 2013, Governor Snyder signed Michigan Senate Bills 288 and 289 into law – great news indeed. At the risk of sounding like the proverbial wet blanket by dampening the post-bill signing celebration, the reality is that for the full merit of this legislative achievement to be realized, we, as sportsmen-conservationists, must remain vigilant on its provisions as they extend beyond the issue of public wolf management.
The greatest potential for this legislation may be its use as a reminder to current and future legislators that wildlife management decisions should be made by professionals charged with this authority after input from the general public; not the other way around. On the other battlefront, however, it is unlikely that this legislation will do much to dampen the enthusiasm of individuals and groups who would prefer to spread misinformation and have such matters decided at the ballot box.
Without question, the major elements of this legislative package represent the last legs of the science-based wildlife management stool which have been missing since the passage of Proposal ‘G’ in 1996. For most of us who campaigned on behalf of Proposal G “back in the day,” SB-288 and SB-289 would seem to be the “Holy Grail” of our collective goal of science-based wildlife management.
It may be recalled that Proposal G was a referendum on Public Act 377 of 1996 which amended the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act (NREPA) to grant the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game in this state. The amendment also required that the NRC use principles of sound scientific management, to the greatest extent practicable, in making decisions regarding the taking of game. It is because of the occasional selective interpretation of Proposal G by elected and appointed decision-makers in the past that has somewhat dampened my celebration of this new legislation.
I have to confess that some of my initial skepticism relative to the sincerity of some of the bill sponsors and legislative supporters relates to the fact that many of these same individuals have previously advanced legislation or at least placed significant legislative pressure on the Michigan Department of Natural Resources when, in their view, the DNR was not caving in to their largely social or economically-driven natural resource management policy agenda. Issues such as deer baiting within TB-management areas and winter deer feeding immediately come to mind. Also, will these or other future legislators be willing to support recommendations from fisheries and wildlife professionals when there is an absence of clearly compelling research to support such recommendations?
Another question which will be worth keeping an eye on will be the reaction to the passage of this legislative package by Michigan’s fisheries and wildlife management professionals. One cannot help but wonder if there may be an increased level of reluctance on the part of DNR personnel to advance a politically-sensitive recommendation knowing that their role and authority has at least theoretically been strengthened through this legislation. If that were to happen, the true value and purpose of this legislation will never be fully realized.
It is for these reasons that the greatest tests of, and opportunities for, this legislation lie ahead and do not end with the wolf management issue. It is incumbent upon each of us who make such issues a priority to serve as reminders to elected officials about what it is they have voted into law, and also support those professional natural resource managers even when their recommendations may run counter to our own recreational preferences – however personally painful.
Sorry for the brief sobriety check. Now, lets go back to the party.