ESCANABA - The five regional public forums presented by the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen's Alliance were concluded and the results reviewed by the UPSA Wildlife Committee this week.
Committee Chairman Al Ettenhofer and UPSA Secretary Rory Mattson traveled across the U.P. and ran the meetings where 93 questions were posed to those in attendance. The purpose of the forums was to provide non-affiliate residents of the U.P. an opportunity to voice their opinions and vote on issues.
Most of the sessions were well attended, but a mix-up in understanding which specific meeting was from the UPSA caused a smaller group to show in Newberry. It should also be noted the overwhelming mix of people were hunters, trappers and fishermen/women.
The goal of the survey questionnaire was to gain perspective as to wildlife and natural resources concerns and prioritize the results to then bring them before the membership of the UPSA for resolution. The membership is mostly made up of conservation organization representatives who either vote outright on behalf of their respective organizations or bring details of issues back to their membership for individual resolve and then vote before the main body of UPSA.
I attended one of the five meetings and also previewed the list of questions with the committee prior to their presentation so I could better understand what specifically was being asked and why they were included.
Along with some management recommendations, the committee also realized a need to increase public education on some issues. One area of need is related to how deer populations are estimated by the MDNRE.
There is a unified opinion by the public they do not believe current deer population estimates are accurate. The same amount also believed the MDNRE was still using a specific "deer per square mile" format which often times seemed lopsided against known resident populations of whitetails. Years ago however, the MDNRE changed their methodology to more of a trend analysis. This system sums the area populations as being up or down for the year.
The same percentage seemed supportive of mandatory registration of harvested deer, although they did not resolve how to feasibly accomplish the task.
I would note those states often referred to for having mandatory registration, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania use the mail survey, like that done in Michigan, as their primary indicator for projecting harvest numbers. Mattson indicated, "Any such survey still does not address living population estimates, it only counts dead deer."
By statistics, and after some clarification, the majority of U.P. hunters believe environment was the primary limiting factor for deer populations. Initial discussion centered on man-caused issues including hunting, motor vehicle accidents, etc. That anomaly stayed as the second highest factor with predation coming in at third.
This supports the belief by most wildlife managers and conservationists no matter what we do, mother nature plays the most significant role in deer survival. Hunting and habitat work are the second best tools available for manipulating deer populations to fit the terrain.
When the questions related to baiting and feeding of deer came up, it was clear most supported both practices. Given the recent discovery of the transmission of disease among deer, it was felt some slight adjustments to baiting would be in order.
Participants support some change in dates baiting is allowed and the quantities being placed on the ground. The UPSA Wildlife Committee will recommend a change at the next meeting.
It is also expected winter feeding of deer will now be permitted across the U.P., however now will utilize a formula at which if and when it will start. The former Winter Severity Index (WSI) once used as the trigger in the winter feeding formula, has been abandoned by the MDNRE. The new system is based on average snowfall by region, and with the help of MDNRE biologists, the UPSA incorporated this into their proposal. Those feeding programs already in place along the Lake Superior watershed will remain exempt from the new program.
One of the hottest topics of all the forums was dealing with harvest quotas. The topic incorporates not only the bare numbers of deer hunted, it will address seasons and mix of seasons as well as licensure. While many of the topics that will appear as agenda items before UPSA can and will be resolved at the next meeting, this particular topic cluster will most likely be sent back to the affiliate clubs for discussion and resolve before coming to the floor for final recommendation.
There are issue updates on the UPSA agenda that include the cormorant control project, UP bear harvest quotas and law changes before the legislature that are related to natural resources management.
The UPSA will meet April 17 at the Sagola Sportmen's Club in Iron County. The meeting is set to begin at 10:00 a.m. ET and is open to the public, however please note only affiliate representatives are allowed to vote on agenda items.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet Saturday mornings.