Deer license sales didn’t drop more than the normal, annual decline in 2019 despite a ban on baiting during the 2019 hunting season in the Lower Peninsula.
Meetings began with the NRC Policy Committee on Wildlife and Fisheries at 10:30 a.m. During this meeting, the commissioners were given division updates by the chiefs of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife and Fisheries Divisions, respectively. Fisheries Chief Jim Dexter reported that his staff is working on a plan for consistent regulations for inland walleye anglers, as well as possible expanding catch and release fishing opportunities.
Acting wildlife chief Rex Ainslie, accompanied by DNR Deer, Elk and Moose Specialist Chad Stewart, provided an update on the preliminary data collected during the firearm deer season. Stewart reported that unique license buyers were down 2.9 percent this year over last year, and deer harvest tags were down 2.3 percent. It is important to note that this falls well within the annual rates of hunter attrition that we have been observing and is not abnormal. It also suggests that new regulations, especially those regarding baiting, did not impact hunter participation.
Ainslie also briefed the commission on the permanent chief search. Dan Kennedy will become the next acting DNR Wildlife Division chief in January, with the hopes of finding a permanent replacement through a national search by mid-spring.
The NRC Committee of the Whole met at 12:30 p.m. to discuss a number of matters up for action and for information. This meeting started with an update from MDNR Deputy Director Shannon Hannah on a number of items before the director, including an oil and gas lease auction, a special disease unit hunt, shooting range regulations, and a number of land transactions. Nicole Tolman of the Parks and Recreation Division briefed the commission on a new Parks and Recreation Division Land Use Order regarding the management of state forest campgrounds.
Before moving to business on the agenda, the commission took public comment. Individuals and stakeholder groups spoke on a myriad of topics before the NRC.
Later in the meeting, MDNR Director Dan Eichinger presented the Thomas L. Washington Award for Lifetime Commitment to Conservation and Outdoor Recreation to Thomas Bailey. Mr. Bailey has been working in Michigan conservation for many years, most recently leading the Little Traverse Conservancy. He also has published a book reflecting on his work: “A North Country Almanac: Reflections of an Old-School Conservationist in a Modern World.” MUCC congratulates Mr. Bailey on his great achievements and on receiving this award.
The Thomas L. Washington Award is named after a past director of MUCC.
The commission voted on open and closed hunting areas within the Yankee Springs State Recreation Area. This tract of public land is located adjacent to the Barry State Game Area and will provide ample opportunities for public hunting in the southwest part of the state.
Commissioners received information on an order regarding statewide trout, salmon, whitefish, cisco, grayling, and smelt regulations. This order has been debated at previous commission meetings regarding brook trout limits on Upper Peninsula inland streams. A regulation that increased the bag limit from five to 10 for brook trout on certain U.P. streams sunsetted on Oct. 1. The commission reinstated the rule at their November meeting by a narrow margin. MUCC is opposed to the regulation; the best available science suggests that it will likely decrease brook trout populations over time and have a negative impact on the species and their sizes.
The Commission heard some debate on this topic but soon recessed for an executive session to gain counsel from the Michigan Attorney General’s office. Commissioners did not take action on this, but they could bring it up for action at their meeting on January 9th.
Director Eichinger approved a number of items, including:
The results of an oil and gas lease auction that took place in October. This auction resulted in the leasing of 5,442 acres of state-managed public land, raising $91,906 for the State Parks Endowment Fund.
An order to regulate target shooting at Lapeer State Game Area. This order prohibits target shooting beyond the range, to limit the impacts of recreational target shooting such as debris, lead shot and conflict with neighbors and other users.
An order to establish a firearm deer hunt for certain private lands in Alpena County during portions of January next year. One goal of this hunt is to help in meeting set management objectives in the bovine tuberculosis zone.
Ten land transactions, the details can be found in the NRC agenda.
The next NRC meeting will take place on January 9th, 2020 on the campus of Michigan State University at the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (4125 Beaumont Road, Lansing 48910). As always, MUCC will keep you updated of these meetings and the important decisions that will be made.
Finally, MUCC would like to thank Vicki Pontz and Rex Schlaybaugh for their service to the NRC and to the state of Michigan, as this was the final meeting of their current terms. Governor Whitmer will appoint two commissioners to the NRC by Jan. 1, 2020.