Last week on December 14, 2017, the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) took action on two major land use and wildlife orders that have been discussed for months and will go into effect in early 2018.
Among the most controversial to some in the audience was the Wildlife Conservation Order Amendment No. 7 of 2017 to re-designate Bay City Recreation Area to Bay City State Park and define Tobico Marsh Boundaries. Since September 27, 2016, the Department and local community leaders have collaborated in a joint task force process to produce an action plan to increase access to the park’s beach and shoreline as well as promote the park in general. One of the items of the action plan was to re-designate the park to its original name: Bay City State Park. The name change is expected to help draw more people to the facility, increase commerce for local tourist-related businesses and help lessen confusion for the potential users who are seeking more information.
Concurrently with the request, the Department recommended updating the Land Use Order of the Director to correctly note the name change as well as to ensure the demarcation between hunting areas, non-hunting areas and the seasonal refuge.
The Department intends to continue collaborative management of Tobico Marsh between the Wildlife Division and Parks and Recreation Division to provide and enhance nesting, brood rearing and migratory habitat for native waterfowl species; protect and enhance the lake plain prairie community; provide fish spawning and rearing habitat; provide for additional waterfowl hunting and furbearer harvest; create opportunities for nature study, including hiking trails and observation areas; and assist with the protection of the archaeological discoveries.
In order to ensure that the park continues to offer diverse recreational opportunities including hunting and trapping, the Department modified the original recommendations in this order. In the Tobico Marsh where hunting and fishing have historically been allowed, the Department recommended increasing the southern boundary to allow better access to users. However, the eastern boundary of the area newly open to hunting is proposed to have a 150-yard no hunting buffer. In addition, the Department recommended adjusting the Tobico Marsh Wildlife Refuge boundaries to preserve the refuge as an important stopover point for waterfowl and closing the refuge to entry on September 1 to January 1 annually. On the western side of the refuge is a popular two-mile trail loop. The trail loop down to the visitor center is proposed as closed to hunting to be maintained as a wildlife viewing area. An additional 150-yard safety zone is proposed between the trail loop and the western side of Tobico Marsh which is currently open to hunting.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs has supported previous iterations of this Order, and there have been hundreds of examples of parcels of outdoor recreation and hunting living together side by side and they are not incompatible uses throughout the state. This has been a series of compromises, and more extensive than other recreation areas where both outdoor recreation and hunting share an area.
In order to address public safety concerns, the Department proposed that the only firearms allowed in the “limited firearms deer zone” may be used in the park. These include:
- A shotgun with a smooth rifled barrel.
- A .35 caliber or larger pistol capable of holding no more than nine shells at one time in the barrel and magazine combined and loaded with straight-walled cartridges.
- A muzzle-loading rifle or black-powder pistol loaded with black-powder or a commercially manufactured black-powder substitute.
- A .35 caliber or larger rifle loaded with straight-walled cartridges with a minimum case length of 1.16 inches and a maximum case length of 1.80 inches.
- A .35 caliber or larger air rifle or pistol charged only from an external high-compression power source such as an external hand pump, air tank or air compressor.
The other action item taken up this month and approved was Public Act 288 of 2016; the Forest Road Inventory in the Northern Lower Peninsula. The comprehensive inventory of the state’s forest roads has been completed and will provide consistency throughout the state. PA 288 of 2016, will allow off-road vehicle (ORV) usage on those roads unless posted closed. The Upper Peninsula and southern Lower Peninsula have to be completed by December 31, 2018. An online mapping tool called ARC GIS was developed and used to complete the inventory. The Department staff have mapped over 7,600 miles of forest roads; 87% to be open to ORV’s and 13% remaining closed.
In other news, the Department has proposed two special disease management hunts for January in Alpena and portions of Ionia and Montcalm Counties, to better manage bovine tuberculosis and chronic wasting disease. The Alpena hunts will be two four day hunts from January 4-7 and 11-14. These hunts are to be held on private land near critical properties along the wildlife/livestock interface and are open to antlered and antlerless deer harvest. Unused and newly purchase licenses are eligible to be used. The Ionia and Montcalm hunt will take place at the same time as the Alpena hunts from January 4-7 and 11-14. These hunts will also be held on private land and will have mandatory CWD testing/sampling. The townships included in Ionia County for this hunt include: Otisco, Orleans, Ronald, North Plains, Keene, Easton, Ionia and Lyons. For Montcalm County, the townships included in the hunt are: Day, Ferris, Evergreen, crystal, Bushnell and Bloomer.
Additionally, Chairman John Matonich announced that he has finished his terms serving on the Natural Resources Commission, and a new commissioner will be announced during the January meeting.
The next meeting of the NRC is scheduled for January 11 at the MSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.