Wolf Hunting in Michigan

Very few people who read this web-log care about Michigan politics and even less care about the politics of hunting wolves in the “Mitten State.” Let me try and assure you that this entry, freewheeling though it may be, is not intended to be as parochial as the title indicates. Anyway, on with the post.

For better or worse, and perhaps for justifications which were a tad bit exaggerated, Michigan began allowing a limited period of wolf hunting last year. The move was heralded by farmers and gamesmen alike, but decried by conservationists (though not all of them). Without getting into the minutiae of Michigan politics, the short story is that today’s ballot features two proposals which, if defeated, would technically put an end to wolf hunting in the state. I write “technically” because a new law, set to take effect next spring, will likely override the proposals by legalizing wolf hunting under the discretion of Michigan’s Natural Resource Commission (NRC). As such, the wolf-hunt ballot initiative is not just about wolves anymore; it is also being held up as a matter of voters’ rights. (For those looking for more information, MLive has further details here.)

There are a few ironies emerging from this fracas, not the least of which being politically conservative proponents of wolf hunting holding fast to the line that the NRC—a government agency—and not the people of Michigan should call the shots (pun intended) on this issue. Yes, the same political conservatives who routinely claim that government bureaucracy and regulation are to blame for the country’s woes are now looking to an administrative apparatus as the lone decisionmaker with respect to whether or not White Fang gets two taps to the back of the head.

I don’t actually disagree with their position, mind you. I would much rather have political conservatives playing pick-and-choose with their favorite agencies than something like a “free market” for wolf hunting whereby the tragedy of the commons would play out to devastating effect. However, it seems to me there is an opportunity here to hold some conservatives’ feet to the fire and ask firmly what, if any, criteria do they propose for assigning regulatory bodies, rather than the market or the “will of the people,” the power to direct the lives of the citizenry. Granted, Michigan is currently directed by conservatives (for now) and so perhaps pro-wolf hunters believe that the NRC will remain open to subsequent wolf-hunting seasons. What if the political winds change? What if the NRC, bowing to pressure from liberal lawmakers and (mostly liberal) environmental and conservation activists, begin restricting, if not outright banning, wolf hunting, regardless of how many of Farmer Bob’s livestock were consumed last week? My suspicion is that the cries of “regulatory capture” (the sentiment, not the term) will resound throughout the state. In fact, we may even be “treated” to another ballot initiative.

This is not a Michigan-isolated matter. Political conservatism in the United States retains a generally favorable attitude toward the administrative state. While the occasionally madcap Tea Partiers/quasi-libertarians talk a tougher game with respect to government regulation, they are not bereft of a pick-and-choose mentality either. If a government agency can advance their personal causes and preferences, then fine; it can be “tolerated.” If, however, those agencies strike them as contrary to their (mainly economic) interests, then they are anathema.

As for the voters’ rights issue that is embedded in the wolf-hunt initiative, again, where are the conservative voices defending the “will of the people”? Or is that will only “acceptable” until it runs counter to conservative interests? And so again, which principle(s) ought to be applied here to determine which matters should go to a vote and which should be left in the hands of lawmakers and their agencies? Although I do not expect this particular issue—trivial as it is in the grand scheme of things—to draw out any answers to those questions, it does, inadvertently raise them.