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DNR: Michigan tradition of deer hunting in decline

Upper Peninsula hunters Friday again will trek into the woods and fields to seek a deer. Many will gather at camps at the end of the day to celebrate if successful or swap stories of the ones that got away, perhaps play cards and enjoy the general atmosphere and camaraderie that is a part of the gun deer hunt experience in Michigan.

But a recent article by Grand Rapids Press, passed along by The Associated Press, indicates fewer people are participating in that annual tradition.

While Michigan had as many as 1.2 million hunters in the 1970s, ’80s and into the ’90s, less than 675,000 people in 2018 purchased at least one hunting license in the state, MLive.com reported Sunday.

The decline is partly due to more baby boomers aging out, the MLive.com article stated. But young adults, urbanites and others also are far less likely to partake in hunting.

Fishing is on a downward trend as well, though its drop has been less steep. Between 2013 and 2018, Michigan residents obtaining fishing licenses fell 5%, compared with a 18% decline in hunting licenses during that same period.

That’s bad news for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which relies on hunting and fishing fees for more than 90% of its $42 million wildlife conservation budget. Money from waterfowl hunting, for example, helps fund the state’s coastal wetland restoration work, DNR Director Dan Eichinger told MLive.com.

It also harms communities that rely on hunting and fishing to boost their local economies, he pointed out. A 2018 study by Michigan State University found hunting and fishing annually generates $11.2 billion in the state, he said.

“I mean, $11 billion is a big deal,” Eichinger said. As it shrinks, “it’s going to disproportionately impact communities in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula” that depend on hunting- and fishing-related tourism, according to the MLive.com article.

Finally, fewer hunters means more deer, which ultimately can affect the overall health of the herd and the forest. Without managing the population, overgrazing, wildlife damage and deer-vehicle collisions become more of a problem.

So how to counter this trend? Efforts should be increased to attract young hunters. Those who once participated in the hunt but might have strayed away should be encouraged to give it a try again, join friends or co-workers for a weekend out at the camps.

Finally, those who choose not to hunt should consider buying a hunting license of some type — a duck stamp, perhaps — to help fund the conservation efforts that benefit the outdoors they likely still enjoy, such as hiking trails or birding.

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