Crunch time for input on chronic wasting disease plan

ESCANABA — The Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance (UPSA) met in regular session last Saturday in Escanaba. The event was hosted by the Great Lakes Sports and Recreation Club with a luncheon sponsored by U.P. Whitetails Association, Inc. It was also the annual organizational meeting and the final outcome retained all current officers.

Al Ettenhofer from U.P. Whitetails is chair of the UPSA Wildlife Committee and addressed the upcoming meetings with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) regarding the developing reaction plan to keep the U.P. free of chronic wasting disease (CWD). This project has been a high priority starting with a strategic organization process ultimately leveling off with public input sessions. Those dates are upon us and set in four locations across the U.P. and are:

– Marquette – April 24, 6-8 p.m. at Marquette High School, 1203 W. Fair Ave.

– Iron Mountain – April 25, 6-8 p.m. (Central Time) at Bay College west complex, 2801 N. US 2.

– Newberry – May 2, 6-8 p.m. at Tahquamenon High School, 700 Newberry Ave.

– Houghton – May 3, 6-8 p.m. at Magnuson Hotel, 820 Sheldon Ave.

Members attending the UPSA meeting questioned the locations, indicating there should have been more than those posted. Ettenhofer reiterated he had requested that Delta, Dickinson and Menominee Counties be added but only Dickinson reached approval. There was also discussion about having at least one meeting in Gogebic County, but that too is not likely to occur. The premise behind all points requested was due to time and travel concerns.

Ettenhofer anticipated this concern and presented other options available for those who want to contribute their perspective regarding the issue.

“These are different from the meetings we’re used to.” Ettenhofer stated. “The MDNR will make a presentation then those attending will have the opportunity to make individual comment to staff members.” Response cards will be provided, but everyone is encouraged to put their thoughts in writing prior to the meeting. If you change your focus after hearing the presentation, you can amend your comments for submission.

Those who cannot make the area meetings can still participate, according to Ettenhofer. U.P. Whitetails Association of Delta and Dickinson Counties have collaborated on full page ads in their respective weekly shopper papers related to the CWD project. While there shouldn’t be anyone without basic knowledge of the degree of which CWD could impact the U.P. deer population, the ad includes a three part narrative defining CWD, requesting the public’s participation and the impacts anticipated if CWD is found here.

An online input testimonial option is also listed within the advertisement: Once opened viewers are requested to click on a bold green tab “Give us your thoughts, ideas and possible actions to combat CWD.” There are 17 various information requests, many of which will ask you to write a statement not to exceed 400 words. There are a number of demographic questions in the later part which some opt not to cover. None of the questions reach into your personal information other than getting a fix on the depth of your knowledge and non-descript use/ownership of land.

Those wanting to just state a position can do so by mail by sending written commentary to: CWD Concerns, MDNR Wildlife Division, 525 West Alligan Street, PO Box 30444, Lansing, Michigan 48933.

Ettenhofer stressed the importance of making your testimony in a diplomatic business format. “This is not a time for sarcasm. We need your true thoughts.” Ettenhofer repeated.

Some key points not already included within the current CWD prevention/reaction plans were brought up at the UPSA meeting:

What protections do we have that feed products and harvested deer are not being hauled into the Upper Peninsula? Deer, moose and elk harvested outside the state lines are prohibited by law. Nothing is in place to stop inner state haul of deer from within the “hot zone” in the Lower Peninsula.

The system of whether or not winter feeding of deer will continue is of great concern to many.

Winter feeding for recreation is currently permitted by law. Supplemental feeding programs in the U.P.’s high snowfall zone is also permitted by the MDNR and endorsed by the Natural Resources Commission. Areas in the middle and southern sections of the U.P. (as mid and low snowfall zones) do permit supplemental feeding only after the need is met by a trigger mechanism of measured snowfall by a certain date and between two areas in the east and west. It is also known that many individuals continue to support winter feeding outside the guidelines, believing their efforts are sustaining a base population through the winter months. That need is enhanced in situations like what we’re seeing this year with late snowfalls that are jeopardizing deer survival as they transition from the winter to spring mode and increased metabolic needs.

An ongoing deer radio-collared study in the western U.P. is indicating that deer have suffered a 13.5 percent mortality rate so far this winter, with 11 percent of adult female deer dying. Deer to the north are stuck in yarding areas because of continuing winter conditions. The U.P. continues to slowly recover from devastating winters that killed off thousand of deer from 2012 through 2014. The real juggling on how to handle the broad range policy on winter feeding of deer will perhaps be the most crucial part of the CWD plan.

In order for the MDNR to understand how all stakeholders feel, they’ll need to hear from everyone. The time is now and the way to provide input is simple. The rest is up to you.

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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.