By JEFF KAROUB | Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) — State wildlife policymakers approved restrictions to antlerless deer hunting during bow season in northern Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a measured step between the status quo and scratching the entire season as the whitetail population has plummeted.
The Natural Resources Commission voted Thursday to eliminate antlerless deer hunting for archers, an action that won’t affect firearm season, which covers most hunters. The alternative option before the commission was to leave hunting seasons as they are.
Canceling the hunt had been discussed but never emerged a likely option given how it would harm local economies, eliminate recreational opportunities, increase hunting in other areas and could leave more deer to die due to severe weather.
The whitetail population has dropped as much as 40 percent in the U.P. after two bitterly cold, snowy winters, 2012-13 and 2013-14. The most recent winter was similarly severe, with significant snowfall before the start of deer season that persisted and frigid temperatures afterward that placed further strain on the animals’ mobility.
About 100,000 people participate in the U.P. hunt.
Commission members, who considered more restrictive options, said the plan they chose could be enough for now as wildlife officials work with public and private landowners to improve deer habitats. The antlerless hunting ban would limit opportunities for archers, but likely would protect the highest number of antlerless deer and follows similar efforts in parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“It gives us the best opportunity for some type of impact in a positive sense a little sooner later,” commission Chairman John Matonich told The Associated Press after the vote in Monroe. He added that it should improve herd numbers “a little more quickly than the habitat” improvements.
Deer numbers have been dropping in Michigan since the mid-1990s, and the state is among many in the Midwest and New England that are implementing or considering cuts to hunting permits. Severe winters are perilous for deer because they risk running out of fat reserves and dying. Fawns, whose health determines the future stability of a herd, are especially susceptible.