Advisory teams to aid in Michigan deer management

Lansing — Regional advisory teams are meeting to discuss deer management in southern Michigan, the northern Lower Peninsula, and the Upper Peninsula as part of a new approach designed to foster better communication between the state DNR and those in the field.

DNR officials assembled three regional teams earlier this year, and the groups held their first public meetings recently to discuss the future of deer management for each area, said Brent Rudolph, DNR deer and elk program leader.

The goal is to educate team members on deer management issues specific to each region to work as liaisons between the DNR and hunters, a recommendation that came out of the most recent statewide deer management plan, Rudolph said.

“The approach is to have the groups around 15 people, some of whom represent organizations that have a tie to the region … and others that are at-large members,” he told Michigan Outdoor News, adding that teams will be educated on the biological and other data used to guide deer management. “We’re starting to meet with these teams so we can develop the best-informed input into the deer program … from the public.”

The regional teams – which consist of representatives from deer-related organizations, as well as other groups involved in habitat work like Pheasants Forever and the Michigan Building and Construction Trades Council – first met in

February for orientation and are now drafting agendas to address specific issues for each of the three regions.

Members in the Upper Peninsula have proposed dividing into subcommittees to review habitat issues and other topics like harvest and regulations, Rudolph said. The U.P. group is expected to review “hunters choice” buck harvest restrictions that have been in place in recent years. That regulation limits buck harvest above the bridge to one buck of any antler size, or two bucks with one that must have three or more antlers on one side, and the second with four or more on one side.

“They will be evaluating that and looking at other options – how they will impact the deer population,” Rudolph said.

The U.P. group is also expected to look at special youth and antlerless seasons, he said.

“We haven’t always clearly communicated what we’re trying to accomplish with these various seasons and regulations,” he said. “They’ll talk about ways to evaluate how well we’re meeting the objectives.”

Ashley Hippler, DNR deer program biologist in the northern Lower Peninsula, said the northern Lower advisory team has outlined four basic areas it plans to asses in coming months: habitat work and volunteer opportunities, simplifying regulations, buck management options, and deer management unit boundaries.

Team members “have had great conversations, even outside the meeting. They’ve continued the discussion since our first meeting in February,” Hippler said.

Northern Lower Peninsula team members requested DNR information about habitat work on state land and forests, to better understand the focus of officials managing timber and wildlife areas, as well as information on volunteer opportunities in the region.

The group also plans to review recent hunter surveys to determine how officials can streamline the hunting and trapping digest in the future, Hippler said.

“They will be looking specifically at deer, what we can do in our hunting digest to simplify regulations” for possible implementation in 2013, she said, adding that several of the topics overlap with a 12-county antler point restriction proposal currently pending for the northwest part of the region.

Hippler said the advisory team is exploring options for buck harvest currently used in Michigan and other states to improve deer management, such as antler point restrictions, season lengths, and one buck only or earn-a-buck regulations.

“They also wanted to explore more closely how our DMU boundaries … were done for the northern Lower and possible scenarios for redrawing those,” Hippler said.

The advisory team members essentially serve as the DNR’s “link to trying to understand what the public wants” from deer management, but Hippler said suggestions from the advisory groups “are things that … we would take into consideration, but we may or may not go with that recommendation.”

The southern Michigan deer advisory team also will focus on habitat management, and members plan to “look at harvest management more closely to identify the objectives for the different seasons (including the youth hunt and early seasons), to look at the recreational value they provide and the population management they provide,” Rudolph said.

“We’ve also talked about how hunter access is important for hunter recruitment and retention,” he added.

Jason Blitchok, vice president of the Michigan Hunters Alliance, is participating in the southern Michigan deer advisory group. With the majority of the state’s deer harvested on private land, he believes that management of private properties will be important, especially in southern Michigan.

Blitchok said he also would like to see consideration of urban deer management, including a partnership program between wildlife managers and local municipalities with high deer numbers, including Auburn Hills and Rochester Hills.

“We have a lot of communities in the southern Lower that have high deer numbers,” he said. “I would like to see us come up with some kind of harvest. That can all be one big management plan where the group … works with the cities to manage the herd.”

Blitchok believes that some management topics likely will be important for all three advisory groups.

“I think the focus … no matter where you are hunting, is the age structure of bucks and the buck-to-doe ratio,” he said. “I think it’s something we need to look at.”

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