MARQUETTE - Michigan Natural Resources Commission member John Madigan said he's pleased with the recent disclosure of an improper diversion of deer habitat improvement funding to lands minimally important for deer.
"It's a good thing," Madigan said. "The money was being spent in areas that really weren't productive for deer, and that's (not) the intent of the legislation."
Over the past five months, Madigan of Munising and fellow NRC Commissioner J.R. Richardson of Ontonagon worked with Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment Director Rebecca Humphries to uncover the funds diversion.
The results of the analysis were revealed earlier this month at an NRC meeting in Lansing.
In 1971, the Deer Range Improvement Program was created as part of Public Act 106. For each firearm deer hunting and bow hunting license the state sells, $1.50 is set aside for deer habitat improvements and land acquisition.
The investigation determined Michigan Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division staff was using DRIP funding to benefit increased jack pine management in the northern Lower Peninsula.
Using the funds this way more readily benefited non-game wildlife species, including the endangered Kirtland's warblers. This allocation allowed the state to qualify for an increase in match money for wildlife grants from the federal government.
"Was it a misuse of funds? Probably not," Madigan said.
But Madigan said the money should be spent on its intended use, especially given the importance of winter deer habitat to the future of the Upper Peninsula's deer herd.
"I think the future of the deer range in the Upper Peninsula is going to be habitat driven," Madigan said.
Madigan said about 12,000 acres have been purchased in the U.P. over roughly the past decade for deer habitat improvement. In addition, a large tract in the Huron Mountains is recommended for purchase by the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund Board.
Humphries said the DRIP funds that were redirected will be returned to the program.
The DNRE will continue to try to find creative ways to maximize federal grant money for non-game wildlife habitat grants and fish habitat projects, Madigan said.
"They are looking at other methods to fund that," he said.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs Executive Director Erin McDonough praised the investigation and derided the DRIP diversion.
"This type of creative accounting with funding generated from hunting license fees is exactly what concerns the sportsmen and women of Michigan as the DNR merges with the Department of Environmental Quality," McDonough said.
Madigan said the DRIP funds diversion came to light after a habitat coordinator position for the program was cut by the DNR last year, triggering questions from NRC commissioners.
Russ Mason, DNRE Wildlife Division director, said the division plans to focus DRIP funds on land acquisition and improvements for winter deer habitat areas in the U.P. and northern Lower Peninsula.