ESCANABA - It's hard to believe that fall hunting regulations are already being set, given that many people feel we haven't even experienced summer.
The weather has been cool, setting records in many areas of the Upper Peninsula. It has also been dry, which is a concern for those in agriculture and fire safety.
The Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) met statute requirements in regular monthly session last week as part of their working agenda. The NRC set quotas for antlerless deer hunting in the three regions of the state.
The southern Lower Peninsula has seen a flat line or slight decline in deer populations in the last couple years. However MDNR Wildlife Specialist Supervisor Mike Bailey stated that "We are still well over our goal in southern Michigan and this regional population needs to be reduced."
The NRC believes public land quotas are best set by biologists covering the respective Deer Management Units. However, they also believe private land owners have a better idea as to the locations where pocket herds are too high, and the same for the reverse, too few deer.
Therefore the NRC reduced the quotas for public land by 200 overall, setting a limit of 35,900 permits for public land, and increased the private land quota by 16,200, totaling 423,000 for the region.
There was no information regarding access to private lands in the report.
In the northern Lower Peninsula, hunters are seeing a rebound from as much as 15 years of concern, seeing lower numbers of deer in relation to the issue of bovine tuberculosis and elimination of all baiting and feeding programs throughout the LP.
The total closure was ordered upon finding one incident of Chronic Wasting disease in Kent County near Grand Rapids, although some winter feeding programs had continued and certain areas were met with increased law enforcement activity.
Even with that, the deer numbers are reported to be climbing and antlerless deer hunting quotas for both public and private land game areas have increased.
Public land licenses have increased by 3,600 to a total of 25,600 and private land permits have risen by 4,900 to a total of 140,300 in the northern LP.
When it comes to the UP, aggregate deer population is scrutinized by two wildlife supervisors and field counterparts. Biologists Bob Doepker and Terry Minzey are charged with monitoring deer populations in the western and eastern UP respectively.
This spring, Minzey reported the winter experienced in most of the eastern UP was very rough on the deer herd. Snow depths were high, temperatures were low and spring break-up came slow.
He estimated losses similar to the previous year which will carry over two more years as far as buck recruitment is concerned, given the two seasons it takes for the male to mature.
Doepker saw what appeared to be a bad winter overall, rapidly change to a fast spring break-up, saving a lot of younger deer. Reports of car deer accidents in the western UP continued through spring and early summer.
However the northern reaches of the UP in general continue to see quotas below intended levels.
Part of finding out why we are still seeing poor deer recruitment in the western UP is hoped to be found in a study that began in January.
Personnel from Mississippi State University embarked on a three-year joint venture with the MDNR and several conservation organizations to replicate a study done in Minnesota, analyzing predators, prey and habitat for the whitetail deer.
Many believe the increased populations of gray wolves are the principal cause for fawn mortality, yet there is an unknown total of deer being lost from predation by black bear, coyotes and bobcats or the loss of sustainable habitat.
The study is being conducted in the southern, middle and northern reaches of the western UP, needing two more years to conclude.
Given the ongoing conditions in the eastern UP and the concerns for recruitment for the western area, UP antlerless deer hunting license quotas for public land were reduced by 1,000 to 7,000 overall, and private land permits reduced 4,000 totaling 27,000 private land tags to be issued.
The real impact on hunters will be many of the northern Deer Management Units throughout the UP are already closed due to deer levels below quota, so the heart of the reductions will most likely be felt along the southern boundaries.
One concern being expressed by many hunting factions is speculation the MDNR is considering closure of baiting and winter feeding programs in the UP.
The law granting authority for deer and elk feeding to the NRC after consulting with the Commission of Agriculture is due to expire Jan. 1, 2010. The MDNR feels the authority remains necessary to provide effective and timely response to address disease issues. HB 4198, introduced by UP Rep. Mike Lahti and supported by the MDNR, extends the authority to Jan. 1, 2016.
The MDNR/NRC are considering options regarding the UP where winter feeding is currently only permitted in the northern deep snowfall zones.
The topic is also under consideration by the UP Sportsmen's Alliance and is slated for discussion at the July meeting in Sagola.
All UPSA affiliate conservation organization membership representatives are asked to attend this meeting as they will be requested to return and meet with their respective memberships for resolution ballot this fall.