U.P. antler restrictions discriminatory/political
August 01, 2008
The decision the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) made at their June meeting to make both tags on combination deer licenses restricted only for U.P. deer hunters and to limit those who buy individual bow and gun licenses to one antlered buck is wrong on so many levels, it should be automatically overturned. The decision should be challenged if it isn't overturned. If the decision isn't reversed, some hunters claim they are going to ignore it.
The NRC ignored established procedure for approval of quality deer management regulations, failed to communicate with the public that established procedure would be ignored, did not consider the best science as mandated by proposal G in 1996, made the decision based on politics rather than biology, knowingly discriminated against some hunters. The proposal is based on false information, unnecessarily reduced deer hunting options (freedom of choice) for certain hunters, reduced deer hunting recreation, validated false perceptions about U.P. deer management, played into the hands of a greedy minority who insist on controlling what constitutes a satisfying deer hunting experience for all hunters in Michigan and reflects how imperiled scientific wildlife management is in this state.
The DNR and NRC established a procedure for approval of so called quality deer management proposals, which normally involve more restrictive antler requirements than established by the state, whereby the organization(s) making the proposal would pay for an opinion poll to assess public support among hunters and landowners. Areas with approval ratings of 66 percent or better are required. This threshold for approval was suggested, if not mandated, by the Quality Deer Management Association for projects they are involved with to insure there is no question about the level of support for new antler restrictions.
The U.P. Whitetails Association, which is the primary organization behind the proposal voted on by the NRC in June, but they are now backed by the U.P. Sportsman's Alliance, previously tried to get a 3-point on one antler rule approved for all deer hunters in the U.P., using this procedure, and it failed. Then the DNR/NRC established a two year moratorium for consideration of quality deer management areas. When those two years were up, the DNR presented the NRC with a new set of guidelines for approval of quality deer management areas and those guidelines were not acted on by the NRC, leaving hunters to believe the previous guidelines were still in effect.
Although the most recent proposal was labeled an "Antler Point Restriction," it is very much a quality deer management proposal in modified form in an effort to generate the support it did not get previously. It obviously got the support from the NRC, but established procedure was not followed. If the NRC arbitrarily intended on changing the rules regarding these restrictions, they should have clearly communicated those intentions to the public. They did not.
This is the second major communications gaff the DNR/NRC has made in a matter of months. The first was the major push to raise hunting and fishing license fees because the state agency allegedly faced a major deficit during the 2007 fiscal year. The fish and game protection fund ended the fiscal year with more than a $10 million balance. After that fiasco, the DNR/NRC claimed they would do their best to try to communicate better with the public.
The June decision makes it abundantly clear that politics are alive and well in Michigan deer management. That's what was behind the NRC decision on June 5 to limit which bucks will be legal to hunters in the U.P. this year. It certainly wasn't biology.
The fact that the new restrictions are discriminatory in two ways should make them illegal. The new rules not only discriminate against hunters who are satisfied, if not downright happy, to shoot a buck with spike or forked antlers in the U.P., the changes discriminate against U.P. residents. Hunters who are content to shoot a yearling buck with at least three inch antlers are being discriminated against as well as penalized because their hunt is over as soon as they shoot a buck whereas those who choose to wait for a buck with at least three points on one antler, some of which are also yearlings, have the option of continuing to hunt for a second buck.
Deer hunters who reside in the U.P. and want to try for two bucks with individual bow and gun deer licenses, are being discriminated against by the new rules because they have to travel below the bridge to do so. The time and expense involved in doing so are prohibitive to some hunters, more so now than ever before with high gas prices. It should be illegal for the DNR and NRC to discriminate against hunters based upon where they live, where they choose to hunt and the size antlers bucks of the same age happen to have.
On three different occasions, I asked Patricia Spitzley, the DNR's chief of legal services, if it was illegal for the DNR and NRC to discriminate against hunters in the way the new antler restrictions do. A week later, I still have not received a reply, and I think I know why.
Whitetails are supposed to be owned by the public and managed as a public trust by the DNR, providing equal opportunity for all residents to utilize the resource. The recently approved rules do not do that for the first time that I'm aware of in modern times. Of course, that's the problem with management by politics instead of biology and science. Political decisions have more of a tendency to be unfair and biased than those based on biology.
Any bias in deer hunting decisions based on biology tends to favor the resource rather than any group of individuals. Those who made the changes and support them would argue that the changes do favor the resource. No they don't. They make absolutely no difference to the resource.
Biologically, the impacts on the resource (number of adult bucks from one year to the next in the U.P.) are neutral whether one or both buck tags are restricted for U.P. hunters. A maximum of four percent of U.P. hunters bagged two bucks in any one year previously. The severity of winter dictates how many adult bucks will be present in the region from one year to the next and that will never change, unless current supplemental winter feeding guidelines are modified. In a conversation with acting DNR wildlife division chief Doug Reeves, he agreed that, biologically, it makes no difference whether combination deer licenses in the U.P. have an unrestricted tag.
"We were only asked by the commission if there would be any negative biological impacts of having both buck tags restricted on U.P. combo licenses," Reeves said. "We weren't asked about biological impacts of leaving the license the way it is."
It was clear from the memo to the NRC from the DNR about the U.P. antler restriction that no biology was involved in the decision. Biology or science weren't mentioned once. Most of the discussion focused on antler size and the desire by some hunters to shoot bucks with larger antlers. Wording under the recommendation portion of this commission order says a lot in terms of what was not there.
It reads, "This order was submitted for information on May 8, 2008 at the NRC meeting. This item appeared on the Department's May 1, 2008 calendar and may be eligible for approval on June 5, 2008." There was no recommendation from DNR staff about whether to approve or not approve the order, as there usually is, effectively distancing themselves from it.
I found it ironic that the DNR's Doug Reeves, during our telephone conversation, brought up the passage of proposal G by a wide margin of voters during 1996, explaining it gave the NRC the authority to make changes like they did on June 5. The reason proposal G was approved by a landslide is because it contained the requirement that only sound science be used when making decisions affecting hunting, it required that the best science be used in making decisions. That was obviously not done in this case.
On top of that, they've been using false biological information to claim more antler restrictions are needed in the U.P. They repeatedly claim that most U.P. does are bred by yearling bucks because there are few bucks that are 2 1/2 years old or older in the region, which is totally false. Only 47 percent of the antlered whitetails brought to DNR check stations during 2007 were yearlings. An amazing 53 percent were at least 2 1/2 years old.
Buck hunting success for all deer hunting seasons in 2007 was higher in the U.P. than any other region in the state at 35.3 percent, according to DNR data. And the number of bucks bagged in the U.P. during the 2007 firearms season increased by 20.3 percent over the year before compared to single digit increases in the state's other two regions. For all seasons during 2007, the U.P. buck harvest increased by 16.7 percent compared to slight declines in the rest of the state.
We don't need more antler restrictions to improve buck hunting success in the U.P., just mild winters. Two mild winters in a row are responsible for the jump in buck harvest last year and any increase that might occur during 2008. A severe winter, on the other hand, will reduce availability of bucks in the future regardless of how many yearling bucks are protected from hunters by unnecessary antler point restrictions.
If anything, the new antler restrictions will reduce buck hunting success in the U.P. Of course, that's what U.P. Whitetails and UPSA say they want.
Hunters who have to shoot a buck with at least three antler points on a side are less likely to fill either tag from combo deer licenses. Some hunters simply won't see a buck that meets the minimum requirement. The necessity of counting antler points will save some bucks that otherwise would have been taken because shot opportunities will be gone, in some cases, by the time hunters are able to determine a buck is legal. In other situations, legal bucks will walk away unscathed because hunters won't be able to tell how many points the antlers have.
Although, biologically, having both buck tags restricted in the U.P. has little bearing on the number of bucks present, it does have a major impact on hunter recreation, satisfaction and freedom. Hunters who are forced to make a choice to buy bow or gun deer tags to increase their chances of getting a "legal" buck are done hunting as soon as they shoot one buck, cutting their hunting time that a combo license was intended to provide when it was developed. U.P. hunters who want to continue hunting for an antlerless deer have few options because many areas aren't open to antlerless hunting during firearms season and permit quotas have been reduced in areas where they are available.
Hunters who choose to buy combo licenses with both tags restricted to maximize their hunting time, may not fill either tag. Although some of these hunters will still have a satisfying experience, many won't.
It's ironic that the U.P. antler restrictions were adopted at the NRC meeting following Memorial Day, a day set aside to commemorate members of the military who have died protecting this country's freedoms. This country was founded on freedom of choice (democracy). And until June 5, all deer hunters in Michigan had the freedom to choose whether to buy a single or combo deer license, to fit their individual situation and aspirations. They also had the freedom to choose whether or not passing up a spike or forkhorn was right for them regardless of which deer license they decided to purchase.
The NRC decision in June changed those freedoms and represents an insult to the principles this country is based on because they are not only unnecessary, they dictate what all deer hunters in the U.P. must do based on the preferences of others. The real purpose behind the proposal approved by the NRC is greed. This is about one group of hunters claiming ownership of as many yearling bucks as possible by controlling as many hunters as possible to do what they want them to do (not shoot spikes and forkhorns). And the NRC is making it possible for this to happen.
There's no doubt in my mind that the people behind the antler restriction proposal sincerely think that it will improve buck hunting in the U.P. At the same time, there's no doubt that they are greedy. Time after time, I've heard them state that they are concerned about someone else shooting the young bucks they let go. The thought of it happening makes them mad.
Rather than accepting the fact that other hunters have different criteria for a successful or satisfying experience while deer hunting, they are not satisfied or happy until they can reduce or eliminate the freedom to choose of hunters who do not think the same way they do. I call that a dictatorship. I have another label for hunters who try to and, in this case, are successful in taking away hunting opportunity - anti-hunting hunters.
Hunter numbers are dwindling and there are already too many groups who are opposed to all forms of hunting that are doing their darndest to restrict and eliminate hunting opportunity. We don't need hunters and supposed hunter friendly agencies like the DNR and their policy making bodies doing the same thing. Besides being frustrating, ignoring the facts and failing to consider all aspects of an issue, it discourages public input by knowledgeable individuals. It encourages input from those who try to use political influence and intimidation instead of the facts. Plus the new rules are unenforceable and another reason why they should be reversed.