Hunters protest at Marquette meeting

By Marty Kovarik Correspondent

Marquette, Mich. — The scene outside the recent DNR deer
management meeting at Northern Michigan University in Marquette
resembled a labor dispute more than a gathering of hunters.

Adults and youths marched in “peaceful protest” of what they
believe is poor deer management, holding signs stating, “One Buck,
Not Two,” “U.P.’s Whitetails Managed to Extinction,” and “Boycott
DNR Licenses in 2006.”

“The hunting is so horrible in the U.P., it’s the worst guys
have ever seen,” said protester Buck Johnson, a local sport shop
owner. “We see no changes in the future, and we want something to
happen for the game and for the hunters.”

As more than 400 hunters filed into the NMU banquette room, the
mood was intense, bordering on hostile. Many of the protest signs
and comments made during the meeting suggested that hunters
attending want to restrict deer harvest.

Among the comments made to the DNR, the most popular solutions
on how to improve the deer population in the U.P. would be to
restrict hunters to one buck tag, sell fewer or no antlerless
permits, shorten the overall deer season, and establish stricter
antler requirements. Other issues addressed included supplemental
winter feeding, mandatory registration of harvested deer, and
consideration of the impact that predators, especially wolves, are
having on the U.P. deer herd.

Johnson said hunters are fighting for more hunting
opportunities, not fewer.

“Right now, there are no opportunities,” he said. “There is
nothing out there to be hunting now. We should be thinking about
the animals.”

One complaint mentioned often was the continued sale of two buck
tags in the U.P. When Natural Resources Commission member John
Madigan asked for a show of hands in support of one buck license, a
majority of hunters supported the idea.

Attendees said the biggest concern isn’t that too many hunters
are filling their second buck tag (about 1 percent) and
overharvesting bucks, but that the second tag allows hunters to
shoot the first buck they see, then hold out for a bigger buck.

“That second tag gives them the opportunity to kill a dinker
first, then wait for a big one,” Johnson said.

Marquette hunter Gary Modlin agreed.

“It’s not so much that a lot of people are taking two bucks;
it’s about being more selective,” Modlin said. “Hunters won’t be so
quick to fill their buck tag. If people want to keep hunting after
they fill their one buck tag, they can hunt does.”

Throughout the meeting, the mood remained tense. Hecklers called
out “the DNR is incompetent,” saying they should all be fired.
There were also complaints about the Natural Resources Commission,
and calls to fire the DNR director.

Johnson said plans are to take the concerns to the state
Legislature. “They’ll help us,” he said, “or we’ll get someone in
there who does.”

Attempts by DNR biologists to explain the situation of the deer
herd in the Upper Peninsula often fell on deaf ears.

“I was really miffed after the DNR put out propaganda that hard
winters and low timber harvest were the reason for low deer
numbers,” Johnson said.

Although many hunters walked out before the meeting was over,
some remained and felt that there was some positive exchange of

“Our own local biologist is talking with us, and he as well as
our NRC commissioner will carry our concerns to Lansing,” Modlin
said. “The most positive thing of the night, though, was that we
calmly made a point that we really aren’t happy out here.”

With deer management meetings being conducted throughout the
state, so far the Marquette meeting has been the most volatile.

“We’ve had great turnouts at these meetings and good information
exchanges,” said Ann Wilson, DNR communications representative.
“This is the only one where we’ve had so much displeasure

DNR biologists say that winter weather, good habitat and the
amount of ongoing timber harvest will continue to affect the deer
population in the U.P.

“Our deer herd up here is driven by weather conditions and
winter severity,” said Terry McFadden, a DNR biologist at
Marquette. “As good habitat shrinks, the land doesn’t have the
ability to carry as many deer.”

According to McFadden, deer management in the U.P. will continue
to be an uphill struggle and will take the cooperation of state,
public, and corporate interests.

Because the DNR cannot dictate what people do on their own land,
private land cooperation in improving deer habitat is essential,
according to McFadden.

“It’s important that landowners understand that there is
technical and financial assistance out there, and we are reaching
out to make things happen,” he said. “We are all after the same
outcome, which is healthy wildlife populations.”

McFadden said the reason for these deer meetings is to make
things as transparent as possible for the public, and to get
feedback and comments on deer goals.

“We are not trying to hide things from the public,” he said.

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