Judge denies deer group application

Richard P. Smith

MARQUETTE — After eight months, an Ingham County Circuit Court judge denied an application by Deer Hunters For Responsible UP Deer Management to appeal decisions made by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission regarding Upper Peninsula deer hunting that were counter to recommendations made by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the group announced.

The case had been transferred to Judge Joyce A. Draganchuk from Judge Wanda M. Stokes, the deer organization said in a news release.

Decisions about applications of this type are supposed to be made within 35 days. A footnote on the court order states, “This Court does not know the reason the application was not decided within 35 days of its filing by the Circuit Judge from whom this case was reassigned.”

The court’s decision was based on timing of the application rather than the merits of the case, according to attorney Stephen J. van Stempvoort of the Miller Johnson Law Firm in Grand Rapids, who represented Deer Hunters For Responsible UP Deer Management. The court ruled that an application to appeal the NRC decisions had to be filed within 21 days. In the attorney’s opinion, an appeal was possible up to six months after the NRC decisions.

“I think the court’s ruling is probably incorrect, but I’m not sure that it’s worth pursuing,” van Stempvoort wrote in an email about the court’s decision. “Even if we win an appeal of the court’s decision, it will take approximately a year or more, and, on remand, the trial court could still simply deny the appeal.”

Richard P. Smith of Marquette, spokesman for Deer Hunters for Responsible UP Deer Management, said in a statement, “The court’s decision is obviously disappointing. What is most disappointing about the decision is it stands in the way of enforcing a law that’s on the books (Proposal G) requiring the commission to use the best available science when making decisions.

“The DNR Wildlife Division used the best available science when recommending three badly needed changes to U.P. deer hunting regulations that the commission ignored.”

John Pepin, deputy information officer for the DNR, said the agency did not have a comment at this time.

One DNR recommendation was to make one buck tag on U.P. combination licenses unrestricted as they are in most of the rest of Michigan and were in the U.P. prior to 2008.

“Department staff have reviewed this regulation (having both buck tags restricted on U.P. combo licenses) and determined that this regulation has not achieved a biological benefit and has had very little impact on shifting the age structure of bucks in the U.P.,” the DNR wrote in its recommendation. “To create statewide consistency and clarify buck harvest opportunities, the department recommends removing the 3-point APR (antler point restriction) on the deer combination regular license in the U.P.”

Smith said, “Current U.P. buck harvest regulations penalize hunters who hunt here. Anyone can buy a single deer license and shoot a buck with 3-inch spikes or better, but they can only shoot one buck. Hunters who want to maximize hunting opportunity buy combination licenses with two buck tags, but the fact both tags have mandatory antler point restrictions increases the possibility neither tag will be filled. Making both buck tags restricted was an attempt to fix something that wasn’t broken.”

Spikes or better have historically been legal to all hunters in the U.P. without any negative impacts, he said.

“In fact, buck harvests averaged much higher and included more older-age bucks, when all deer hunters could choose which antlered bucks they wanted to shoot,” Smith said. “The U.P. buck kill has declined dramatically since both buck tags on combo licenses were restricted in 2008. The only thing that change has accomplished is preventing some hunters from shooting deer they otherwise could have. There is no biological justification for protecting yearling bucks from U.P. hunters.”

Part of the reason mandatory antler point restrictions on both buck tags of combo licenses isn’t working is many of the bucks that those regulations protect from hunters end up dying during severe winters, Smith said. Both bucks and does that die during severe winters do major damage to critical winter habitat, limiting that habitat’s ability to carry as many deer in the future.

“It is far better for hunters to harvest some of those bucks before winter to increase the chances of survival for the deer that remain,” Smith said.

NRC Commissioner Dave Nyberg of Marquette County made an amendment to the DNR order to keep both buck tags on U.P. combo licenses restricted. When he did so, he acknowledged the regulation did not have any biologic benefits, but wanted to keep it that way because the regulation did not have any negative biologic impacts, which is a false assumption, Smith said.

Another DNR recommendation that the commission rejected was to make antlerless deer legal to bowhunters over the entire U.P. as they were for 50 years prior to 2015 without any negative impacts, the deer group said. Antlerless deer are and have been legal to bowhunters over the rest of the state. The only place in the U.P. where bowhunters can currently shoot antlerless deer are in southern counties where antlerless permits are issued.

The third DNR recommendation the NRC rejected was to make crossbows legal in the U.P. during the late archery season as they are in the rest of the state. At the present time, crossbows are legal only during December in the U.P. chronic wasting disease management zone. Based on available data, the DNR stated that neither of the other two changes would have a negative impact on the U.P. deer herd, the group said.

“Ironically, regulations that would allow hunters to shoot more antlerless deer would do a better job of protecting U.P. bucks than having both buck tags restricted on combo licenses,” Smith said. “It would give hunters more options about which deer to shoot where bucks-only regulations are currently in place.”

Despite the court decision, Smith indicated that there is still a chance that the changes in U.P. deer hunting regulations that the DNR recommended for 2021 can be implemented this year.

“If the current commission realizes that U.P. deer hunters are currently unnecessarily penalized, having both buck tags restricted on combo licenses does have a negative biological impact and neither of the other two changes will have negative impacts, they could put the DNR recommendations in place,” he said. “The NRC is supposed to include seven people, but there were only five on the commission when they made the decisions about U.P. deer hunting. There are now three new commissioners that did not take part in the previous decisions.”

Those commissioners, he said, are Dave Anthony, Tom Baird and Leslie Love.

Letters on the topic can be sent to the commission at nrc@michigan.gov or to the Natural Resources Commission, P.O. Box 30028, Lansing, MI 48909. Contact information for each commissioner can be found at https://www.michigan. gov/dnr/about/boards/nrc.


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