The Michigan Natural Resources Commission (NRC) met Thursday to review proposed rules for the 2021 deer hunting season. 

These include a removal of the Upper Peninsula’s (U.P.) “Hunter’s Choice” option, the creation of a universal antlerless license and legalizing crossbows during the late U.P. archery season. However, most of the public comment period centered around the recent decision to remove grey wolves from the federal endangered species list – and was dominated by members of the animal rights community. The DNR Director also announced the hiring of Dr. Jared Duquette as the new Wildlife Division Chief.

These new rules, and others presented in WCO Amendment No. 8 of 2020, are intended to clarify deer regulations and better meet the Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) management goals. The NRC met virtually to consider a full agenda. A recording of the meeting may be viewed here. 

Michigan United Conservation Clubs weighed in on these rules and will continue to be actively involved with the DNR and NRC throughout the rule-making process, said MUCC Executive Director Amy Trotter. 

“As with most Michigan deer hunters, MUCC members hold a wide variety of opinions regarding deer management in the state, and we recognize that the DNR cannot manage deer in a way that will appease each and every hunter,” Trotter said. “So, we need you – hunters, anglers and conservationists – to share your individual experience at the NRC. With everything being held virtually, this process could not be easier.”

DNR Director Dan Eichinger offered a report to the NRC on recent DNR activities, including the hiring of Dr. Jared Duquette as the new Wildlife Division Chief. Duquette is originally from St. Charles, MI and conducted research for his PhD in the U.P. Duquette was most recently employed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources as the Wildlife and Hunter Heritage Program Manager and worked on issues ranging from recruitment, retention and reactivation (R3) to Chronic Wasting Disease management. Duquette will begin working as Wildlife Division Chief at the end of November. 

Eichinger also oversaw the presentation of Safari Club International’s Wildlife Biologist of the Year award, as well as the drawing of a raffle for individuals who completed various surveys. Guntis (Nick) Kalejs received the award for Wildlife Biologists.

DNR Deer Management Specialist Chad Stewart and Deer Program Biologist Ashley Autenrieth gave a presentation to the NRC regarding the deer regulation changes proposed for the fall 2021 hunting seasons. Part of this report extended beyond the written order and included a forecast for additional changes in the 2021 season. 

Stewart detailed a movement to expand voluntary deer registration in the 2021 season to reduce stress on check stations and gather data more quickly. It is likely that this will become mandatory in 2022. 

Eichinger also offered a brief discussion of the recent delisting of grey wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act. The DNR director expects that there will likely be a number of legal challenges to this rule; however, the role of the State of Michigan will be to gather the wolf management roundtable to discuss the state wolf management plan. 

A large number of individuals and organizations offered testimony on the recent wolf delisting, while very few offered public comments on the current orders before the NRC. Given that meetings are virtual, individuals may sign up to offer comments via phone by emailing NRC@michigan.gov

New Business

Members of the NRC considered a package of proposed deer regulations for the fall 2021 hunting seasons. These rules come after substantive regulation changes for the 2020 hunting season, which is already underway. For current rules and regulations, please see the fall 2020 hunting digest

The proposed rules for 2021 include: 

  • The creation of a universal antlerless deer license, with certain restrictions on areas of the U.P., rather than on a Deer Management Unit (DMU) level
  • Permitting crossbow use during the late archery season in the U.P., consistent with the Lower Peninsula
  • Removal of the “Hunter’s Choice” option in the U.P., which previously allowed hunters to choose between harvesting one antlered deer without antler point restrictions (APRs) or two deer under a 3-point and a 4-point APR, respectively. This change would not apply to Drummond Island (DMU 117)
  • Removal of the antlerless option during archery deer season in the U.P. (“Doe With A Bow”)
  • Changing rules for recreational and supplemental feeding, including the removal of the permitting process for supplemental feeding. 
  • Renewing the urban deer management zone in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties, making these counties eligible for an extended archery season in January
  • Creating a new DMU on North Manitou Island
  • Expanding the method and manner of take for deer damage shooting permits 

These rules can be viewed holistically from the DNR, or in brief from MUCC

MUCC has policy that expressly supports the practice of supplemental feeding in the Upper Peninsula, especially where deer are stressed by severe winters. MUCC members have voted to oppose baiting by hunters generally, as well as in the context of transmissible diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease and Bovine Tuberculosis. MUCC has concerns with the proposed recommendations as it relates to supplemental feeding in the U.P. — supplemental feeding has a very different intent than recreational feeding (for viewing purposes) and these activities need to have separate regulations and enforcement. This proposed regulation would effectively eliminate the permit for supplemental feeding. 

The NRC will not vote on any of these proposed rules until their meeting in December. However, it is likely that this body will not make any decision on these fall 2021 deer hunting regulations until Jan. or Feb. 2021. It is also important to note that changes to the license structure, and therefore the electronic licensing system, must be made by Mar. 1 to interface clearly with hunting license software. 

The DNR Director also accepted a number of land transactions. These included a sale of land in Mason County, the sale of an easement in Osceola County, the acceptance of a gift easement in Keweenaw County, the acceptance of a gift of land in Cheboygan County, a property exchange in Schoolcraft County and an acquisition by the Parks & Recreation Division in Oakland County. A full list of land transactions can be found on the NRC agenda

Old Business

The NRC did not consider any action items at their November meeting. 

The DNR Director plans to sign an order regarding commercial fishing regulations that was held over for several months. 

The next meeting of the NRC is scheduled for Dec. 10 and will take place virtually. This will be the final meeting for Commissioners Chris Tracy and Louise Klarr, unless they are reappointed by Gov. Whitmer. 

Since 1937, MUCC has united citizens to conserve, protect and enhance Michigan’s natural resources and outdoor heritage – and we do so from Lansing to Washington D.C. Please join us today: http://bit.ly/JoinMUCC

 

About Charlie Booher

Charlie Booher is a State Conservation Policy Fellow with Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

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