Are changes afoot for U.P. deer feeding?

Marquette, Mich. – A proposal to liberalize supplemental feeding
in the Upper Peninsula was presented to the Natural Resources
Commission last week at its meeting in Lansing. The order would add
one county to supplemental feeding restrictions set in 2003 and
allow feeding in the southern tier of the U.P. during the most
severe winters. The order will be up for a vote at the Aug. 12
NRC_meeting in Escanaba.

The NRC has the authority to regulate the feeding of deer and
elk. This allows the commission to address feeding as it relates to
disease issues.

The idea for the proposed amendment to the supplemental feeding
regulations was hammered out by concerned sportsmen working with
DNRE biologists to determine when and where the winter would impact
white-tailed deer survival. According to Upper Peninsula Sportsmen
Alliance president Dale McNamee, the effort to establish formal
regulations to legally feed deer in areas hard hit by severe
winters began 20 years ago.

“We’ve been trying to get this settled for 20 years, but the
issue has moved more to the forefront during the last 10 years,”
McNamee said. “Due to poor management practices we are aware that
we don’t have proper winter habitat up here now.”

According to McNamee, his group is not trying to establish an
artificial deer herd or one that is above carrying capacity. It
wants to be allowed to come to the aid of the deer herd when it is
obvious the winter will be so bad there will be heavy winter kill.
The loss of winter habitat has become an increasingly critical
issue for deer survival, he said.

“In 1995 we lost 200,000 deer,” McNamee said. “We don’t think
those deer should be left to die because feeding might or might not
spread disease.”

Currently, supplemental feeding is allowed in Ontonagon,
Houghton, Baraga, Alger, and Luce counties and portions of
Marquette and Chippewa counties from the Monday following Jan. 1
through May 15. This area is along the Lake Superior snow belt and
receives the heaviest snowfalls in Michigan. The amendment will add
Gogebic County to this list.

The proposal also would allow supplemental feeding in the
southern tier of the U.P. during severe winters, using accumulative
snowfall totals as a guide as to when feeding may occur.

This model is used by DNRE biologists to determine winter
severity and how much the winter will impact the deer herd. If the
total reaches 48 inches at the Crystal Falls and Escanaba stations
by the Monday nearest Jan. 15, feeding would be allowed in Iron,
Dickinson, and Menominee counties and a portion of Marquette
County. When that total reaches 60 in the Manistique and Naubinway
stations, feeding would be allowed in Schoolcraft and Mackinaw
counties and a portion of Chippewa County. The amendment also would
add second cut alfalfa and clover to the list of acceptable
foods.

“We feel that we can expand the area where supplemental feeding
is allowed and constrain it to the worst winters that will have the
greatest impact on the deer herd,” said Brent Rudolph, the DNRE’s
deer and elk program leader.

According to Rudolph, the accumulated snowfall numbers put into
place where supplemental feeding will be allowed, are where
officials consistently see an impact to the deer herd the following
year. During the past 18 years, the proposed criteria would have
allowed supplemental feeding in the west side of the southern U.P.
during eight of those years, and seven in the east end.

With the presence of bovine tuberculous in the northeast Lower
Peninsula and a captive deer with chronic wasting decease found in
Kent County, biologists continue to be concerned about the
biological issues associated with supplement feeding. Under the
conditions proposed in the amendment, the department believes
limited feeding would have a minimal potential impact to the herd,
Rudolph said.

McNamee said his group worked with DNRE biologists Terry Minzey
and Craig Albright to come up with the accumulated snowfall numbers
proposal.

“We were very happy to have a chance to work with these guys,”
McNamee said. “What it all comes down to is that when these deer
need our help, we want to be there for them.”

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