NRC sets bear hunting framework for 2017-18

Lansing — The Michigan Natural Resources Commission earlier this month approved new bear hunting regulations that include an overall increase in available tags for the 2017-18 seasons in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, as well as a ban on chocolate in bait, an increase in nonresident licenses and other changes.

The NRC approved recommendations from Department of Natural Resources officials to increase available licenses across the northern Lower Peninsula by 19 percent, a move aimed at increasing the desired harvest by 112 bears over 2016 figures.

In the Upper Peninsula, DNR officials recommended a total harvest of 1,170 bears, or an increase of 52 bears over 2016, and NRC commissioners approved the changes with the exception of the Baraga BMU. DNR officials requested a decrease of 125 licenses in that unit because of increasing hunter success, but the commission voted to keep the licenses the same as 2016 based on feedback from hunters in the region.

DNR bear and wolf specialist Kevin Swanson told Michigan Outdoor News the changes reflect efforts to control growing bear populations in both peninsulas, particularly in the Lower Peninsula where conflicts with the public have become an issue.

Changes for the Baldwin BMU, for example, more than double the desired harvest to 90 bears from 43 bears last year.

“Nuisance and crop damage complaints across the NLP region have risen dramatically in recent years. Notable complaints such as bluff charges, attacks on humans, and domestic dog kills have become more common and have created a higher level of concern among the public and department staff,” DNR officials wrote in the proposal.

“They had three attacks on people from bears and numerous complaints from people in Cadillac,” said Mike Thorman, spokesman for the Michigan Hunting Dog Federation. “They actually had 40 car-bear collisions in the Baldwin unit.”

Thorman said members of the Bear Forum – a group comprised of various bear hunting interests in the state that works with the DNR to craft regulations – are nearly unanimously opposed to increasing the bear harvest in the northern Lower Peninsula but understand the motivation behind the change.

“They’ve been 20 percent over the proposed harvest the last few years,” said Thorman, who also lobbies on behalf of the Michigan Bear Hunters Association and U.P. Bear Houndsmen. “That’s why we wanted Red Oak to stay the same.”

“I would say overall we’re satisfied with the cautious increases they’re doing to manage bear. There’s some things we’d prefer to be different, but there’s no huge problems,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep the harvest statewide in the 1,500 range, and this plan should do that.”

DNR officials predict the approved regulations would produce a statewide harvest of 1,525 bears, though the change to the Baraga BMU could increase the figure some.

“In terms of quotas, I think we’re comfortable,” said Amy Trotter, deputy director for Michigan United Conservation Clubs. “Our goal is still to see a gradual increase in bear populations in all of these units.”

“We’d certainly rather hunters take bears than dealing with nuisance complaints or relocations,” she said.

The NRC also approved a ban on all chocolate in bear bait for the two-year regulation cycle, based in part on calls from hunters to protect bears and other wildlife. Theobromine, a component of chocolate, is poisonous to bears, dogs, raccoons, coyotes, wolves and other animals.

“It was the only sensible thing to do,” Thorman said.

The 2017-18 regulations also increase a cap on nonresident bear hunting licenses from 2 percent to 5 percent of the total license allocation, a move opposed by bear hunting groups that will result in about 200 fewer licenses available to residents.

“I think that’s something we’ll look at long term to see how it affects hunters’ access to tags,” Trotter said.

DNR officials considered requests to allow the use of bait barrels on public lands, an earlier start to the baiting season, a 10-day bait-only start to the season in the U.P., concurrent season openers for both peninsulas, and an increase in the number of hounds allowed during the hunting season.

The department and NRC ultimately rejected all but the increase in hounds during the hunting season, which will increase from six to eight.

“You’re allowed to use eight during the training season and six during the hunt, and that didn’t make sense,” Swanson said, adding that there’s no biological reason for the difference.

Thorman said allowing two extra dogs simply opens up more opportunities for hound hunters.

“Everybody would like to have a dog in the race, and it allows two more hounds to participate,” he said.

Trotter said MUCC will review a resolution again this summer to push for bait barrels on public lands, though a similar proposal failed to gain approval last year.

Don Bell, president of the Archery Bear Hunters of Michigan, said archery bear hunters support all of the changes for 2017-18, but oppose some of the suggestions from hound hunters rejected by the DNR.

“When biologists make recommendations on something we pretty much support them all the time because they’re not throwing a dart at the wall,” he said. “They spend a lot of time on this … and listen to feedback from hunters.”

Bell said his group opposes the use of barrels on public lands and earlier baiting to prevent over-stressing young cubs that would be chased earlier in the year by hounds.

The Archery Bear Hunters believe the approved quotas for the next two years strike a good balance between controlling bear numbers while continuing to grow the population in both peninsulas, he said.

“If you look at the stats and how quick they’re filling the quotas, the bear population is still growing,” he said. “Bears are in a good state right now.”

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