Lansing — Farmers and designated licensed hunters will be allowed to use firearms to fill deer management assistance permits (DMAPs) in a five-county area of northern Michigan during most of the archery deer season. The state Natural Resources Commission at its meeting earlier this month approved a DNR proposal to liberalize the use of DMAPs through a pilot program, despite opposition from the Michigan Bowhunters Association and others.
“Michigan Bowhunters worked with the Michigan Farm Bureau, MUCC, and the Quality Deer Management Association to come up with a compromise, but since we couldn’t, MBH can’t support this order,” Dean Hall, president of MBH, told Michigan Outdoor News. “(In 1996) Farm Bureau threatened to take the DNR to court because there were too many deer on the landscape. The department developed the crop damage permit program and everyone was happy. I don’t know what happened between then and now, but MBH is not happy with what farmers wanted.”
Farmers sustaining significant agricultural or horticultural crop damage documented by the DNR may receive deer damage shooting permits, which allow for the use of firearms to kill nuisance deer and are valid any time deer-hunting seasons are closed. DMAPs are available for use during hunting seasons. DMAPs may be used only during an open season for deer, by a hunter with a valid base license and deer license, with the method of take allowed during the open season, except on a case-by-case basis during the first two weeks of the archery season. They are limited to antlerless deer only.
Under the new regulation, a pilot program will take place in five counties – Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, and Charlevoix – and results will be examined in three years. Farmers there will be allowed to use firearms to fill DMAPs if: a DNR inspection determines that there is a crop-damage issue; there are factors such as the size of a field that preclude effective archery hunting or if available tools, such as deer damage shooting permits, have been used; the landowner agrees that there will be no shooting Oct. 1-4 and Nov. 10-14; and the landowner includes method of take in an annual report to the DNR.
The new regulation also allows for the taking of one antlered deer with a DMAP per landowner in the pilot area if: an inspection by the DNR determines that an antlered deer is causing acute damage on agricultural or horticultural trees, shrubs, or vines multiple times during a week by removing bark through antler rubbing; and the landowner has used barriers and other methods like fencing and tree wraps to prevent damage without successful results. The DNR also recommends that antlered deer killed on a DMAP are surrendered, including antlers, to the DNR within 72 hours.
The pilot area was selected because farmers in the northwest Lower Peninsula have reported increased damage to their fruit crops (apples, cherries, grapes) and are concerned about a restricted deer harvest in the area since antler point restrictions were implemented there last year.
“Obviously, crop damage by deer has been an ongoing problem for years,” said Andrew Vermeesch, associate legislative council for Michigan Farm Bureau, which requested a change in DMAP requirements. “While we support deer hunting as a management tool, it doesn’t always address the issue. Farmers need the tools to minimize the impact from deer and protect their investment. The changes made today are a step forward in that direction. It’s a good starting point, but the discussion needs to continue.”
Last year, the DNR made an exception and allowed a potato farmer in the Upper Peninsula to use a firearm to fill DMAPs during the archery season, and the Farm Bureau wants all farmers to have that opportunity.
Hunters raised concerns about safety issues with rifles being used during the archery season when bowhunters are dressed in full camouflage, about overharvest, and about deer being spooked by firearms use during the bow season.
“For decades, our members and hunters in general have offered to help farmers out before turning to special permits,” said Amy Trotter, resource policy manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. “Our contention is that there are a lot of hunters out there that are willing to help, but (the farmers) don’t feel that’s suitable for the conditions.”
Trotted said one positive that should come out of the pilot program is better reporting of where and when crop damage issues are impacting farmers.
“Biologists should be able to look at those numbers and make recommendations on quotas for antlerless permits,” Trotter said.