ESCANABA - 2011 was a busy time for those involved with conservation and outdoors recreation. The following is a summary of highlights for the year:
January started off with mild temperatures and less than normal snowfall. It would continue to be mild as far as snowfall but temperatures cooled off considerably. The good news is that for the second consecutive year wildlife, and in particular the whitetail deer, came through winter pretty well.
In February the low snowfall made snowmobile trail maintenance in the southern UP more difficult. The lack of base made it difficult to groom trails. Areas of double use by ATV's on public trails in the summer and the damage caused by full-size 4x4 vehicles trying to access the trails left holes and debris that created some hazards.
March saw the announcement that Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County had passed the $1 million mark in fund raising with all support revenues being invested into local conservation projects.
The Deer Camp Survey from the 2010 firearm deer hunting season was released in March and it showed a marked improvement of hunter satisfaction from the previous year.
In April, the Michigan Legislature made the conservation headlines. One proposal, Senate Bill 0248 that came to be known as the "Land Cap Bill", would have restricted the amount of public land that could be managed by the MDNR.
It was originally supposed to help alleviate discrepancies where higher concentrations of state land hurt tax revenue potential with Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) at rates less than private land. It passed through the Senate but even after numerous amendments, it was stalled in the House of Representatives and most like will have to be re-written.
In the same period, legislators started making noises about robbing the Natural Resources Trust Fund and diverting it to other non-conservation uses.
In the later part of April, another bill that addressed the closure of some of the State Wilderness Campgrounds (Senate Bill 0332) was introduced. The concept of the legislation was to turn over those campgrounds closed by the MDNR to the local county government. They would then have the opportunity to re-open the park and potentially increase tourism in their respective area. Unfortunately the bill never made it out of committee.
In May, the volunteer Raptor Rehabilitation Center located in Delta County was almost shut down. Certain species of predator birds can only be held in captivity when used for teaching purposes and not just display. The issue was resolved and the Center continues its fine work.
May also marked the year long celebration of 30 years of Discovering, a UP outdoors show that, since its origin, has been hosted and produced by Buck LeVasseur of Skandia. Discovering for many has been a primary source of information regarding conservation efforts and outdoor recreational opportunities in the UP and State of Michigan.
June was the final leg of a three year Predator, Prey, Habitat Study being conducted in the southern UP by graduate students of Mississippi State University - College of Forestry Resources. The program is co-sponsored by the MDNR with significant support by the Safari Club International Foundation and their Michigan Involvement Committee, and further sponsorship by Wildlife Unlimited of Delta County.
While considered state-of-the-art in wildlife research, the program will now enter two more phases, each working in higher snowfall zones to determine the impact of predation and winter severity on wildlife.
In July it was made known that State agencies, like the MDNR, were no longer permitted to declare positions regarding legislation dealing with natural resources. The logic behind the directive is still to be found.
Also in July the State Legislature wrangled with the MDNR order that would list feral swine as an invasive species, which would call for the closure of many game ranches in Michigan.
Bills were introduced both in favor and against the order and it failed to be resolved, putting the order into effect in 2012.
The good news for the month is that newly appointed UP MDNR Wildlife
Supervisor Terry Minzey initiated the creation of seven conservation coalitions across the peninsula, bringing issues and conservation project proposals to the table at a more local level.
The Delta County Coalition met for its second time and agreed to submit and review various projects in January for the upcoming year.
In August two important pieces of legislation passed in the state. One would allow volunteers to work wildlife habitat projects on public land, and the other will allow parents to decide at what age a youngster can legally begin hunting in Michigan. Both bills, mostly supported by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and now law, will take effect in 2012.
In September more "right-sizing" of the MDNR took place, bolstering the concept of regionalization. While the move took place due to reduced annual revenues, it has returned some autonomy to the local divisions in making decisions relevant to the area.
October saw the establishment of the Upper Peninsula ORV Trail Development Association (UPORVTDA) that will combine efforts to create and connect trail systems across the UP. The group will also work uniformly to influence ATV/OHV regulations and policy within Michigan.
November marked another overall improvement to deer harvest. The UP and northern LP saw a 10-14 percent improvement over the previous season. The southern LP showed a marked downturn in deer kill numbers.
And finally, December saw the announcement that the gray wolf will be delisted as an endangered species. While some believe there will be a rapid transition to converting them to a game species, other are preparing to do battle with anti-conservation factions as the state legislature readies as the next arena of battle.
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 on Saturday mornings.