A look at the top outdoor issues of the year

ESCANABA — Only two days remain to 2017 and I find myself not only looking back at the previous 12 months, it is also a time to reflect on what will happen in the coming year.

Every month this year involved some type of work related to the ATV/ORV and snowmobile riding sports. A lot of meetings to expand the system and connection of Michigan’s designated motorized trails, routes and connections showed success. The same can be said with the non-motorized network. Information shared by trail sponsors helped merge the techniques of funding generation and use. Everyone involved with trail use recreation also teamed to assist the U.S. Forest Service personnel in keeping as much access to the national forests open as possible, especially on those roads that were under consideration for closure due to funding losses. The final results from input will be announced in 2018. Wildlife management has been a higher priority of focus over the last several years, especially given the deer losses going back to the winters of 2014 and 2015.

The base U.P. deer herd was devastated with immense snowfall showing losses of 80-100 percent in the high snowfall zones. Even with mild winters in the last two years, predation continued to hinder recovery with fawn recruitment. The ability to provide supplemental food sources along the Lake Superior shoreline, again the historic high snowfall zone, has been permitted to help keep a base population. There still exists a trigger mechanism in the middle and low snowfall zones that allows feeding if levels hit a certain measure in December and throughout winter in case heavy snows again occur.

The ability to control predation is somewhat successful, however there remains the controversy regarding wolf management. Whether or not there should be a means of assisting control via hunting and trapping has been and remains tied up in the courts. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has fought the delisting of wolves in the Great Lakes Region even though they know population numbers based on science analysis clearly illustrate this prime predator has recovered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has answered and corrected every “glitch” contested in the courts, yet the process of change seems stalled. That has prompted the U.S. Congress to take a closer look at the issue and seek to change the mechanics of the law that allows what some call arbitrary interference. What is most concerning beyond what environmental elements might play in the survival of whitetailed deer in Michigan is disease.

At this point, Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is isolated to the Lower Peninsula (L.P.), however the core area is expanding. The issue of how to prevent and, if found, react to CWD if found in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) continues to evolve. Michigan established a CWD Task Force that concluded their agenda objectives in December. The final recommendations of which will be published in the second week of January. What will most likely become controversial in the report will be the issue of baiting and feeding of deer. If the recommendation indicates a ban be put into effect, it will most likely be a statewide measure and thus will pit the L.P. against the U.P.

Baiting and feeding of deer is considered a vector mechanism for the spread of disease by some as it congregates deer enhancing nose-to-nose contact. Moreover, CWD is not a bacteria or virus that would die once outside of the host body, instead it is a mutant prion (protein) that survives beyond any environmental situation and can be picked up by plant life and/or be translocated by other wildlife species not susceptible to infection. Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) membership took this concept under advisement and voted to support a statewide ban on baiting and feeding. In contrast, the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance disagrees, using the fact that when done appropriately, neither baiting or feeding would generally, by itself, be a cause for the spread of disease. While it does consider endorsement of a ban within a core area, the outlying areas utilizing baiting and feeding would not have a negative impact any more than natural browse or food plots created and endorsed by wildlife planners in providing necessary nutrition for deer, especially during stressful winter months.

There is also a migration monitoring study underway this winter to identify whether or not deer are moving across state lines between Michigan’s U.P. and Wisconsin. There are two counties in Wisconsin verified to have CWD, each with infected deer within 30 miles of the border. Depending on the results of the planning process and findings of the migratory study, it can be anticipated that the future of deer management is on the verge of being forever changed.

Beyond these items, the state and federal natural resources managers and general public will have to deal with issues to bolster recovery of the sports fisheries in public waters of the Great Lakes, inland lakes, rivers and streams. The state of Michigan will also be dealing with a push to manage what additional wildlife should be added as a game species and what needed environmental protection measures may need to be implemented, Another question will be how much further tourism will advance as an essential economic component of the UP? These and other topics are what I’ll be covering next week.

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Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Trails & Tales Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.