Senate panel OKs bill for wolf hunt

TRAVERSE CITY (AP) – A state Senate committee approved legislation Thursday that could block voters from deciding whether to allow wolf hunting in Michigan.

The bill would empower the Natural Resources Commission, a seven-member regulatory panel appointed by the governor, to decide which types of wildlife could be hunted. Only the Legislature presently has that authority.

Lawmakers voted in December to put the wolf on the list of game species. Opponents collected more than 240,000 petition signatures seeking a statewide vote in 2014 on whether to overturn the measure. If officials determine enough of the signatures are valid, no wolf hunt could be held until after the referendum.

But that could change under a new bill sponsored by Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba Republican. It would give the Natural Resources Commission equal standing with lawmakers to designate game species, although only the Legislature could drop a species from the list. It also would include a $1 million appropriation – which under state law would keep it from being placed on the ballot.

If the bill is approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Rick Snyder, it would mean the results of a 2014 statewide initiative would not be legally binding.