Group challenging state deer hunt regulations for UP

MARQUETTE — A group of deer hunters organized by Marquette outdoors writer Richard P. Smith has launched a legal challenge in Ingham County Circuit Court to several Upper Peninsula deer hunting decisions by the Natural Resources Commission.

At its February meeting, the NRC rejected three changes to U.P. deer hunting regulations recommended by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The DNR used the best available science in making those recommendations, Deer Hunters for Responsible UP Deer Management stated in its challenge.

Those proposed changes would have eliminated “Hunter’s Choice” regulations in the U.P., made does legal to bowhunters throughout the U.P. and made crossbows legal for deer hunting in the U.P. during the December archery deer season.

Proposal G, a law passed by 70% of Michigan voters in 1996, requires the NRC to use the best available science when making decisions, and it did not do that when acting on the DNR recommendations about U.P. deer hunting, the Deer Hunters for Responsible U.P. Deer Management claims.

If the legal challenge fails, U.P. deer hunters will continue to be penalized by regulations that reduce the chances of success besides contributing to poor deer management through high winter deer losses, increase the spread of chronic wasting disease among U.P. deer, contribute to declining hunter numbers and reduce revenue for the DNR through license sales.

Hunter’s Choice regulations, which put antler point restrictions on both buck tags of U.P. combination deer licenses, were adopted in 2008, the group said. Before 2008, one buck tag on combo licenses was unrestricted, meaning bucks with at least 3-inch antlers were legal for hunters to shoot. Starting in 2008, bucks had to have at least three points on one antler to be legal on combo deer licenses.

Those restrictions forced hunters to pass up bucks that later died anyway during severe winters that followed, the group said. Before those deer died, they did major damage to critical winter habitat, reducing the ability of that habitat to support many deer during future winters. Since 2008, more than 100,000 deer that hunters could have and should have harvested, perished during harsh winters, the group claims.

In 2015, the law was changed to prohibit U.P. bowhunters from shooting antlerless deer due to high winter losses created by trying to carry too many deer through the winter, which dramatically reduced the U.P. deer population. Before 2015, antlerless deer had been legal to bowhunters in the region for roughly 50 years without having much impact on the deer herd.

The DNR recommended allowing bowhunters to harvest antlerless deer U.P.-wide again starting in 2021 because it would have negligible impact on the U.P. deer population and, in fact, would help better manage the herd, according to the group.

Crossbows were legalized for deer hunting during archery seasons in 2009, but an exception was made for their use during December in the U.P. due to speculation crossbows would be more effective than vertical bows during the late season, Deer Hunters for Responsible U.P. Deer Management said.

The DNR recommended crossbows be legal for deer hunting in the U.P. during December as they are in the rest of the state because the data shows the success rate is almost the same among crossbow hunters as those using vertical bows. The NRC ignored this information, the group claims.

Only one deer, a 4-year-old doe, has been detected with CWD in the U.P., but that deer was taken on a crop damage permit in Dickinson County before the beginning of regular deer seasons, the group said. DNR genetic testing of deer infected with CWD has confirmed does that have the disease pass it on to their fawns and the doe with CWD most likely had fawns.

Due to regulations that protect many yearling bucks and does, hunters have not been able to harvest other deer with CWD that probably exist in the U.P.

A GoFundMe page has been started to raise money for the legal challenge at https://gofund.me/579f53e4. Anyone wishing to make direct contributions to the legal defense fund can send donations to U.P. Deer Management, 814 Clark St., Marquette, MI 49855.

The law firm of Miller Johnson in Grand Rapids has been hired to represent Deer Hunters For Responsible UP Deer Management.

The DNR said it does not comment on ongoing legal matters.


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