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Commercial Forest Program has limitations on public use

Hunters are not allowed to leave anything overnight on Commercial Forest lands.

Part of the reason Michigan’s Commercial Forest Program exists is to increase the amount of land available for hunting, fishing, and trapping. Users of these forestlands should be aware of their rights and limitations.

Imagine walking into your forest — say a 40-acre woodland — and finding a hunter has been doing things without your knowledge. Someone has built a blind and a baiting station. They’ve cut a shooting lane. And well-worn ATV trails lead to the site. You don’t know who did this. There are no names on the blind, like you would find on an ice shanty.

What do you do?

Just the year before, you left a note about removing the blind, which was done. However, a new and larger one was constructed in its place. The hunter has your name and phone number, which also was posted on a sign where your two-track road enters the property. But you don’t know who the hunter is!

Who would take such liberties on private property that belongs to someone else?

Sure, your property is entered into the Commercial Forest Program, so public hunting, fishing and trapping is allowed. A hunter doesn’t need to ask your permission to hunt. However, you could potentially get kicked out of the tax program for what this unknown hunter has done and that could cost you a fair chunk of change.

So, what are the rules for your guests?

Aside from reading the actual legislation, a decent summary can be found in the annual Department of Natural Resources’ Hunting Digest.

Michigan’s Commercial Forest Program — sometimes called by old terms CFA or CFR — opens more than 2 million acres of forest land to hunting, fishing and trapping. However, hunters, fishers and trappers need to use these lands with respect and understand the limitations of that use. Violations can result in criminal or civil liability.

— Hunting licenses are required (public-land antlerless license for antlerless deer).

— Foot-access only, unless the forest owner allows motor vehicles. Owners can gate roads.

— Nothing can be left overnight, including blinds, bait stations, litter, tents, etc.

— No blinds can be constructed of any sort, except from dead natural materials on site.

— Shooting lanes cannot be cut.

— No nails, bolts, wire, tree steps that harm trees or may be dangerous to timber harvest.

— No firearm target-shooting or sighting-in.

Most of these restrictions are simple courtesy when using someone else’s land. Hunters, fishers and trappers are responsible for knowing the rules. So should forest owners.

Maps of CF land, by county, can be found online at Commercial Forest Maps at www.michigan.gov/dnr. The tool is awkward to use, unless you already know the township and range of the land where you wish to hunt. However, CF-colored county maps can be found, which helps locate specific CF properties.

Another color-coded locator tool can be found on the DNR MI-Hunt at www.mcgi.state.mi.us/mi-hunt/#acceptTerms, which is a bit easier to use.

Note that the Qualified Forest Program is different and is managed by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The Commercial Forest Program is administered by the DNR, with three service foresters that can field questions:

— Western U.P., Gary Willis at willisg2@Michigan.gov or 906-353-6651;

— Central/Eastern U.P., Ernie Houghton at houghtone@michigan.gov or 906-789-8208;

— Lower Peninsula – Mike Hanley at hanleym@Michigan.gov or 517-675-5445.

So, what do you do if there are violators on your property? If you’re comfortable with talking to them, let them know they are in violation and ask them to stop whatever it is they’re doing. Failing that, a forest owner can contact a conservation officer. Remember, it is your land.

As an MSU Extension forester and biologist, Bill Cook provides educational programming for the entire Upper Peninsula. His office is at the MSU Forest Biomass Innovation Center near Escanaba. His email address is cookwi@msu.edu.

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