- Associated Press - Thursday, May 7, 2015

MERIDIAN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) - Michigan wildlife policymakers don’t plan to cancel this year’s deer season in the Upper Peninsula - a place where hunting is embraced economically and culturally - despite a plummeting whitetail deer population.

A Natural Resources Commission policy committee voted Thursday to recommend that the full commission either take no action or eliminate antlerless deer hunting during bow season. The latter option wouldn’t affect firearm season, which covers most hunters.

Commissioners, who were meeting at a Michigan State University facility near Lansing, set bag limits and other hunting regulations. A full vote on the hunt is planned for next month.

The whitetail population has dropped as much as 40 percent after two bitterly cold, snowy winters in the U.P., where about 100,000 people participate in the hunt. Canceling the hunt was discussed but never a likely option given how it would harm local economies, eliminate recreational opportunities, increase hunting in other areas and could leave more deer to die due to severe weather.

“Eliminating the hunt is not needed at this time,” said J.R. Richardson, a commissioner from the Upper Peninsula community of Ontonagon. “We don’t have to go all the way. It’s an economic and cultural thing.”

Richardson said taking a more measured step, such as eliminating antlerless hunting during archery season, could be enough for now as wildlife officials work with public and private landowners to improve deer habitats. The antlerless hunting ban would limit opportunities for archers, but likely would protect the highest number of antlerless deer and follows similar efforts in areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin, said state deer management specialist Chad Stewart.

Deer numbers have been dropping in Michigan since the mid-1990s, and the state is among many in the Midwest and New England that are implementing or considering cuts to hunting permits. Severe winters are perilous for deer because they risk running out of fat reserves and dying. Fawns, whose health determines the future stability of a herd, are especially susceptible.

Stewart said one “ray of hope” is that a monitored sample of animals in one area of Michigan’s northern, rugged U.P. is surviving at a much higher rate this year than in the previous years. Still, he said, this year is expected to continue a long trend of declines.

The news that canceling the hunt was off the table was welcome to Tony Demboski, president of the Upper Peninsula Sportmans Alliance. But he recognizes further restricting the hunt is necessary.

“We’re looking at anything that can help save the herd,” he said. “We know we’re going to have to take it on the nose here a little bit.”

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Online:

Agenda: https://1.usa.gov/1DSBBMT


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