Habitat key to successful deer management in U.P.

Following up on guest op-eds by George Lindquist, Richard Smith and John Ozaga.

Unfortunately they didn’t get deep enough into the real problems regarding Michigan deer herd management. As Ozaga said some of us have been singing the same sad song about deer management to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources for decades but they don’t listen.

I have tried to work with the DNR for years to get something resembling sane deer management in the Upper Peninsula. Remember, we passed Proposal G back in 1996 that said we should manage our resources based on scientific principles not politics.

After numerous meetings with public and sportsmen in the late 198’s, we finally got antlerless deer hunting opened up in the western U.P.

By the early 1990s the herd still exploded and one of the DNR biologists I worked with stated “the deer herd is so high now that we can’t control it by hunting. We need a real ass-kicker of a winter to bring it down.”

Well, we got it in 1995-96 when the Kenton area had snow cover continuously from mid-October until May 20, 1996. We lost probably 90 percent of the local herd that winter despite local feeding efforts.

The winter range actually stunk from rotting deer that spring. The winter of 1996-97 was as bad or worse, but we didn’t have the severe losses, as the deer population was reduced significantly by the previous winter.

What did the DNR do in the fall of 1997 to control the deer herd? Nothing. They let the herd increase to lose them this year.

We could have taken those deer out last fall and not fed them through the winter only to lose them. It makes no sense to try to control deer population by concentrating harvest on bucks when virtually all the winter losses are doe and fawns.

It gets worse. In 2012, the last year for which I have figures available, out of over 400 entries into Michigan records for deer, the U.P. had a total of only 18 and the northern third of the Lower Peninsula had 25.

Between the two, that represents a little over half of the land mass of the state and almost all the land open to the public.

Ten percent of the trophy deer were possibly taken from areas open to the public. Again, it gets worse. Thanks to our federal senator and environmentalists over 100,000 acres of deer range were taken out of active management.

The majority of winter deer range (yards) in the Ottawa (western U.P.) were in and adjacent to the river bottoms. Between the Wilderness Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, most were taken out of active management permanently.

The same thing happened in the Hiawatha in the eastern U.P. To make it even worse, both forests have virtually eliminated management on lowland conifers and hemlock. Want to guess where the winter deer range was?

If you want quality deer, especially bucks, they require three things-age, genetics and nutrition. Of the 3, we now have, perhaps one-genetics. Between baiting and multiple buck tags, the buck population has virtually no chance of producing anything resembling decent deer.

Bucks do not live long enough to become the dominants we used to see. You cannot have a healthy herd that is on basically starvation rations for six-plus months.

For those of you in private industry, I cannot understand why you haven’t sued the DNR for the devastation the deer have done to the quality hardwood on your lands.

The only tree species that is regularly regenerating is ironwood, worthless other than small pulp or firewood. The deer won’t eat ironwood unlike valuable hardwood species.

I have a lifetime comprehensive license. DNR mismanagement has made it almost worthless. I haven’t even seen a decent buck for at least 15 years.

Traditional deer hunting in Michigan thanks to baiting is virtually dead.

The number of deer hunters in Michigan has been declining almost steadily since 1998. Youth will not stay with deer hunting if there is not a challenge with a possibility of significant success.

Michigan needs significant changes in regulations for that to happen including loosening of restrictions on legally harvested deer from other states.

Editor’s note: Larry Mellstrom is a retired U.S. Forest Service forester living in Iron River. He has over 40 years of government service including over 30 years of timber management in the Ottawa and Hiawatha national forests. The balance of the rest of his service was in northern Wisconsin’s Nicolet and Chequamegon national forests. He was a certified scorer for Commemorative Bucks of Michigan for about 25 years, including several years as Regional Director for Region 1 of CBM (western half of the UP). Larry was also district chairperson for District 19 of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs for several years.

which covered basically the same area. He is also a former Michigan hunter safety instructor. He has hunted UP deer since 1956 and has 3 bucks listed in the Michigan Record Book.