TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (AP) — Farmers in five northern Lower Peninsula counties are getting a dispensation from Michigan to shoot deer as a way to reduce damage to their fruit trees and other crops.

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission has approved the hunts in Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Grand Traverse and Leelanau counties.

Farmers have received special allowance for years under the Deer Management Assistance Permit, but only during normal hunting seasons.

This year, people getting the permits also can hunt for certain periods outside the firearms and bow-hunting seasons.

The system allows firearms hunting through much of the fall but excludes shooting deer Oct. 1-4 and Nov. 10-14.

Mark Miezio, manager at Cherry Bay Orchards and president of the Leelanau County Horticultural Society, said he has tried everything to keep deer away from his farm. That includes hanging bars and dryer sheets from trees and spraying them with hot sauce and cologne.

“Everything works for a short period of time,” but nothing works for long, Miezio told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. He said he has had to replace 2 percent to 5 percent of his fruit trees because of deer damage in recent years. Deer damage the trees by eating new growth in the spring and rubbing their antlers on trees in the fall.

That experience isn't unique, said Ashley Autenrieth, a deer program biologist with the state Department of Natural Resources.

“In general, we've been seeing an increase in deer numbers over the last few years and we've seen a spike in damage occurring in those areas,” said Autenrieth.

An advocacy group for hunters questioned whether farmers need the new rules and said the result could be a reduction in hunting opportunities for others.

“We're already seen a decrease in the deer populations in northwest Michigan due to the winter last year, higher than normal snowfall and also the temperatures took a toll on the deer herd,” said Ryan Ratajczak, president of the Northwest Michigan Quality Deer Management Association. “Our concern was next year, if we have another bad winter, that the deer herd is going to be decreased even more.”

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Permit Program: http://1.usa.gov/1sDiTbr

Rules: http://1.usa.gov/1niq1JA

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Information: Traverse City Record-Eagle, www.record-eagle.com