Private land deer habitat improvements grants available

ESCANABA — The Michigan Deer Range Improvement Program (DRIP), as known today, actually got its start nearly 90 years ago. Back then our state Legislature passed an amendment to the Game Law of 1929 (Act 296, P.A. 1929) known as the $1.50 Fund. The $1.50 was set aside from each deer (hunting) license sold for the “purpose of acquisition, protection, development and maintenance of game refuges and public hunting areas.”

An MDNR Wildlife Division Report (607688) of 2017 stated the evolving history of Drip: “Beginning in the 1930’s habitat management emphasized supplementing the amount of natural winter food and consisted of planting trees and shrubs, winter tree cuttings and herbaceous food patches. Herbaceous plantings were soon halted as they were evaluated as non-effective. In 1946, an assessment of the tree and shrub planting programs indicated most plantings failed and benefits to deer were negligible. A successful program was “deeryard” cuttings which provided browse for deer when concentrated during the winter. Deeryard cuttings were evaluated as the best method for deer range management.

In 1969, the state Legislature approved the Recreation Bond issue (Act 108, P.A. 1969), which provided money for acquiring deer range lands, especially deeryard and deeryard edge.

In 1971, a legislative act (Act 106, P.A. 1971) again allocated $1.50 from each deer license sold “for improving and maintaining deer habitat, for acquiring land for an effective deer habitat management program and payment of ad valorem taxes on lands acquired for effective management. Since 1971, management has emphasized improving habitat to increase the carrying capacity of the land for deer. Habitat management was based on mutually agreed treatments, proposed by foresters and wildlife habitat biologists, for each state forest.

The goal of the program was to produce a state-wide deer population of 1,000,000 by Oct. 1, 1980 and for each year thereafter. The 1971 DRIP program was guided by three main principles: Habitat improvement will be done principally on deer winter range (those areas where deer can be expected to be found during the months of December through March in five out of seven years). The major emphasis of habitat manipulation will be the maintenance of the intolerant types (aspen, oak, jack pine, upland brush and openings) and cedar, especially on the better soils. The next most important emphasis will be to create and maintain an adequate distribution of suitable age classes on forest lands.

The 1971 DRIP program had five goals: 1. Forest/Brushland Management. Control forest succession and the forest type: strive for 35% of the upland in aspen, at least 65 percent of the uplands should be in intolerant types such as aspen, oak, jack pine upland brush and openings and a minimum of 25 percent of the uplands should be in the seedling-sapling stage. 2. Grassland Management. Maintain, develop or improve herbaceous food resources: at least 15% of the upland acreage should be in permanent openings or upland brush. 3. Deeryard Management. Maintain adequate winter food and cover resources: maintain approximately 25% of the deeryard edge in the brush-seedling-sapling stages. 4. Land Acquisition. Acquire parcels that add to deer range management effectiveness. 5. Priorities for managing the forest: – Commercial timber sales – Subsidized timber sales – Department projects

Fast forward to 2008 when there was a push on getting going with habitat improvements to aid in natural sustainability of whitetailed deer on private lands in the Upper Peninsula. As a spin-off from DRIP, the MDNR budgeted $50,000 of revenue from the fund for use as annual grants for private land projects as the Deer Habitat Improvement Partnership Initiative (DHIPI). While the concept was admirable, there was not a lot of knowledge as to the importance private land owners played in the overall picture and the MDNR had a hard time initiating applications.

As time evolved, deer enthusiast land owners learned they played a significant role as nearly half of the forest lands occupied by deer are under private ownership by non-timber producers. That spurred involvement to a point that the annual allocation was increased to $100,000 and to date has accelerated to a point that over $500,000 has been distributed to individual organizations representing the private land sector. Grant amounts range from as little as $2,000 to a maximum of $15,000.

There are three primary initiative goals of DHIPI which all proposals must address: (1) to produce tangible deer habitat improvement; (2) to promote long-term relationships between the MDNR, sportsperson’s organizations, and other partners; (3) and to showcase these projects to the public.

There are still some who believe that artificial supplemental feeding of deer in the winter is the solution for the long term sustainability. While it is understood such programs have a significant importance in areas of the UP deep snowfall zone during harsh winters to maintain a base population, in order to naturally sustain and increase deer numbers overall, it will take sound management of habitat for the long term success. Former MDNR Big Game Specialist Ed Langenau once issued a report that indicated artificial feeding is expensive, commonly impacts only a limited segment of the deer population and is often times of poor quality when it came to nutritional needs. In some cases feeding programs did more harm than good.

More importantly, if Chronic Wasting Disease does present in the UP, further restrictions on baiting and feeding will be considered by the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) while habitat improvement projects involving natural sustainability are projected to remain as an acceptable practice.

The application deadline for the DHIPI Grant Program is now open until on, or before, Thursday March 1. Information is available though any MDNR Field Office or by contacting Bill Scullon, Field Operations Manager from Norway at (906)563-5802 or email at

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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.