MARQUETTE — After eight months, an Ingham County Circuit Court judge has denied a request by Deer Hunters For Responsible UP Deer Management to appeal decisions made by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission regarding the deer hunt of Upper Peninsula that were contrary to recommendations made by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the group said.
The case had been transferred to Judge Joyce A. Draganchuk by Judge Wanda M. Stokes, the deer organization said in a news release.
Decisions on such requests are expected to be made within 35 days. A footnote to the court order states, “This Court does not know the reason why the application was not decided within 35 days of its filing by the circuit judge to whom this matter was reassigned.”
The court’s decision was based on the timing of the request 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 a request to appeal the NRC’s decisions must be filed within 21 days. In the opinion of the lawyer, an appeal was possible up to six months after the decisions of the NRC.
“I think the court’s decision is probably incorrect, but I’m not sure it’s worth suing,” van Stempvoort wrote in an email about the court’s decision. “Even if we win the appeal of the court’s decision, it will take about a year or more, and, on remand, the trial court could still simply dismiss the appeal.”
Richard P. Smith of Marquette, spokesperson for Deer Hunters for Responsible UP Deer Management, said in a statement, “The court’s decision is obviously disappointing. What is most disappointing about this decision is that it precludes the application of an existing law (Proposition G) requiring the commission to use the best available science when making decisions.
“The DNR Wildlife Division used the best available science to recommend three much-needed changes to UP deer hunting regulations that the commission ignored.”
John Pepin, deputy chief information officer for the DNR, said the agency had no comment at this time.
A recommendation from the DNR was to make a one dollar tag on UP combination licenses unrestricted as they are in most of the rest of Michigan and were in UP prior to 2008.
“Department staff reviewed this rule (both male tags being restricted on UP combination licenses) and determined that this rule did not provide a biological benefit and had very little impact on the change in the age structure of males in the UP”, 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 regular deer combination license in the ‘UP’
Smith said, “UP’s current 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 a single buck. Hunters who wish to maximize hunting opportunities purchase combination licenses with two tags, but the fact that both tags have mandatory timber point restrictions increases the possibility of neither tag being fulfilled. The two Buck beacon restriction was an attempt to fix something that wasn’t broken.
Spikes or better have always been legal for all UP hunters without any negative impact, he said.
“In fact, buck harvests were on average much higher and included more older bucks, whereas all deer hunters could choose which antler bucks they wanted to shoot,” said Smith. “The UP buck kill count has dropped significantly since two buck tags on combo licenses were restricted in 2008. The only thing this change has accomplished is to stop some hunters from shooting deer they might have have otherwise. There is no biological justification for protecting yearling males from UP hunters.
Part of the reason the mandatory antler point restrictions on both buck tags of combined licenses don’t work is that many of the bucks these regulations protect from hunters end up dying in harsh winters, a said Smith. Bucks and does that die during harsh winters cause significant 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 these bucks before winter to increase the chances of survival of the remaining deer,” said Smith.
NRC Commissioner Dave Nyberg of Marquette County issued an amendment to the DNR order to limit the two Buck tags on combined UP licenses. When he did, he recognized that the regulation had no biological benefit, but wanted it to stay that way because the regulation had no negative biological impact, which is a false assumption, Smith said.
Another DNR recommendation that the commission rejected was to make antlerless deer legal for bowhunters across UP as they had been for 50 years prior to 2015 without any negative impact, said the group of deer. Antlerless deer are and have been legal for bowhunters in the rest of the state. The only place in UP where bowhunters can currently shoot antlerless deer is in southern counties where antlerless permits are issued.
The third DNR recommendation that the NRC rejected was to make crossbows legal in UP during the end of archery season like they are in the rest of the state. Currently, crossbows are only legal in December in the Chronic Wasting Disease Management Area of UP. Based on available data, the DNR said neither of the other two changes would negatively impact the UP deer herd, the group said.
“Ironically, regulations that would allow hunters to shoot more antlerless deer would do a better job of protecting UP dollars than having both restricted buck tags on licenses combined,” said Smith. “This would give hunters more options on which deer to cull where buck-only regulations are currently in place.”
Despite the court ruling, Smith indicated there is still a chance that changes to UP’s deer hunting regulations recommended by the DNR for 2021 could be implemented this year.
“If the current commission realizes that UP deer hunters are currently being unnecessarily penalized, having both deer tags restricted on combined licenses has a negative biological impact and neither of the other two changes will will have a negative impact, they could implement the recommendations of the DNR, ” he said. “The NRC is supposed to consist of seven people, but there were only five on the commission when they made the decisions about the UP deer hunt. There are now three new commissioners who did not take part in previous decisions.
Those commissioners, he said, are Dave Anthony, Tom Baird and Leslie Love.
Letters on the subject can be sent to the commission at [email protected] or to the Natural Resources Commission, PO Box 30028, Lansing, MI 48909. Contact information for each commissioner can be found at https://www.michigan . gov/dnr/about/boards/nrc.