Michigan hunters don’t need more deer

By any rational metric, the number of deer in Michigan is far too high. However, there is one irrational measure of deer numbers which says that we need more deer. This is the metric used almost exclusively by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources when managing for deer.

Consider these numbers:

Michigan averages almost 50,000 car-deer crashes every year, including over 1,200 injuries and 14 deaths. This makes deer the most dangerous animal in the state, and the most significant road hazard after drunk driving.

Deer cause millions of dollars in crop damage every year in Michigan, making deer the most expensive farm pest in the state. Some crops can lose up to 10 percent to deer annually.

Marvin Roberson is a forest ecologist for the Sierra Club, Michigan’s largest and oldest grassroots environmental organization. He lives in the U.P.

In the winter, deer eat many forest species in damaging amounts. As a result, Michigan is no longer regenerating major components of our forests in any meaningful amount, including cedar, hemlock and Canada Yew, not to mention many herbaceous species.

How does the Michigan DNR, the agency charged with managing wildlife in the state, respond to this major loss of property and life which result from high deer numbers?

As irrational as this seems, the DNR proposes to increase the number of deer, and simply ignores the consequences of the number of deer we already have.

Even with the huge number of deer, the DNR encourages the supplemental winter feeding of deer, to assure higher numbers survive the winter (Wildlife Conservation Order 3.100a and specifically starts at section 5 .

In addition, the DNR is giving grants out to organizations to create more habitat for deer.

In the Michigan Forest Health Report, the DNR describes a number of pests which are hampering forest regeneration in Michigan. Deer are simply ignored, and not even listed, even though deer demonstrably cause more forest mortality and loss of regeneration than any of the pests listed.

Why does the DNR react so irrationally to the clear and obvious fact that we have too many deer? Because of the one metric by which we have too few deer: hunter satisfaction.

Many hunters, and most organized hunting groups, claim that deer numbers are so low as to make hunting no longer possible. This is nonsense. Hunters in Michigan bagged nearly 350,000 deer last year, with a success rate of almost 50 percent. And in fact, despite the claims of some groups, most hunters in Michigan were satisfied with their experience.

While it is true that deer numbers are down (due to some harsh winters), they are still so high as to result in the effects described above. When someone tells me we do not have enough deer, I wonder: If 50,000 car-deer crashes is not enough, how many are? If millions in crop damage is not enough, how much is?

And yet the conventional wisdom, propagated by some hunting groups, is that we need far more deer. The DNR seems to be captive to this view.

Please note: This is not a criticism of hunting. I hunt. I fish. I have no problem with hunting. I do have a problem with managing our state’s wildlife for the benefit of one interest group at the expense of the general public.

Most people in Michigan do not realize that the huge number of deer is a result of intentional management to produce those numbers. The 50,000 car-deer crashes are not “acts of nature.” Millions in crop damage are not just something we have to live with. Loss of forest species to over-browsing is not a given.

These are all results of Michigan’s management for unsustainable numbers of deer. It’s time to stop.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

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Comments

AC
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 6:52am

Nothing the DNR does regarding deer management makes sense. License revenue is what its about.

Rob E
Sun, 11/19/2017 - 11:41am

Agreed. What DNR may not fully appreciate, though, is that hunters like me (who have bought a deer license for the last 50+ years) are about ready to give up hunting because of the absurd restrictions they have now placed on my ability to harvest a deer. For example, in the UP, where I hunt, there are virtually no antlerless permits available (for the 4th year in a row now), and you can no longer harvest a doe during archery season either. Yet, the deer population where I hunt has rebounded strongly since 2014 and is way too high (especially doe/fawn numbers), as evidenced by their severe impact on vegetation. I hunt mainly for the venison, and they've made it so difficult for me to harvest a deer now that it's almost not worth it to buy a license anymore.

Matt
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 8:08am

Where do you see that the DNR is trying increase deer populations? My experience is the population has declined significantly in many areas already even in the LP. Sure if the they help the Ruffed Grouse Society do a habitat project deer may benefit, is that the issue? Urban deer as well as extremely poor driving practices are a big part of the deer/auto problems you outline and don't fall on the DNR the blame is elsewhere. And please don't feel sorry for the farmers, they consider whining, complaining and doom and gloom predicting a high art!

Marvin
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 9:30am

The DNR is specifically promoting more deer habitat, both through direct management for more early-successional habitat (aspen), and by the grants/feeding programs cited right in the article.

It's not just the LP - The UP has 3% of the population of people in the state, and 15% of the car-deer crashes, meaning that UP residents are actually MORE likely to hit a deer than those in the LP.

Matt
Fri, 11/17/2017 - 9:26pm

The Aspen programs you speak of are being pushed by/for the grouse and woodcock hunters as I believe you well know. The counties with the highest deer car issues such as Kent, Kalamazoo and Ottawa have the little public land and DNR involvement. On the other hand mankind has been managing their environment to encourage game for thousands of years. This is a case of Sierra club propagandizing. The public in general doesn't buy the Sierra Club's vision in this area.

trout master
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 8:56am

One reason is that hunters are like most humans, they blame outside forces when the problem is their own skills. I do notice many stores and gas stations selling deer bait, bags of sugar beets and corn. I quit deer hunting because it's become "bait and shoot", sorry folks, that's not hunting, it's just shooting.

Le Roy G. Barnett
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 9:25am

Feeding deer during the winter can have adverse consequences. If I recall correctly, a few decades ago, in an effort to increase the UP deer population, the Munising Sportsmen's Club used snowmobiles to haul feed into the woods to make sure the local herd did not suffer winter kill. After all the saved deer reproduced in the spring, the local farmers complained about their crops being decimated by swarms of what in essence were hoofed locusts.

Tom
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 9:47am

In spite of all that the DNR has done to encourage hunting and fishing, license sales for both activities decline every year. On the other hand, non consumptive recreational pursuits like bird watching, wildlife watching and nature photography are becoming more popular. Unfortunately there is at present no way for the DNR to tap into the revenue stream generated by these "non-hunters" even though they often use the same DNR managed areas developed for hunters. Rather than exploring ways to tap into these growing markets, the DNR continues to fall back on the shrinking base of hunters and fisher persons. They cannot expect to continue to do the same things and expect a different outcome. I am not a "hunter hater" as I have hunted rabbits, deer, pheasants, squirrels and other game species over the years.

Anonymous
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 9:50am

This person has not been to the resent meetings, I am sure they are talking about an extra deer hunt in the TB areas. Watch the new this weekend, you might see something there.

Tiffany
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 10:11am

I also agree there is too much deer. I am a student at the University of Michigan and I saw some deer in the Arboretum. A few months later I was diagnosed with lyme disease. There are many articles written this past year about how lyme disease has increased by a sizable percent in Michigan. Another compelling argument about why there are too many deer in the state.

James Brown
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 12:21pm

Was this written by the insurance lobbyists?

Mike Heath
Sat, 11/18/2017 - 8:36am

Or perhaps someone that drives.

John S.
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 12:29pm

In the wilds of Dearborn, a few nights ago there were five deer in my back yard. Overpopulation of suburban deer is a problem and culling is the answer. Why not lengthen the deer season? It would be good for business. Hunting should involve a bit of work, not hanging around to shoot a deer feeding at a bait dump. Perhaps the DNR is a captured agency. They know where their money comes from.

Jim Montagne
Thu, 11/16/2017 - 3:46pm

Shot a spike this morning in Crawford County. Went to buy another license to get another buck. Was refused. Guess the state doesn't need our money. Can't believe that with a Republican government they justdont let the insurance companies dictate deer quotas.

harley
Fri, 11/17/2017 - 11:11am

Spend a little more time in the wood's. deer populations are low and michigan is ranked very high on the number of yearling deer harvested.

Marvin Roberson
Fri, 11/17/2017 - 3:12pm

As I said in the article, if you think 55,000 crashes and 12 deaths a year is low, we'll just have to disagree. I notice you did not disagree about the forest damage caused by deer, either.

BILL
Sun, 11/19/2017 - 10:28am

IN A FEW YEARS ALL THE DEER IN THE U.P. WILL BE GONE BECAUSE THE SO CALLED
CONSERVATIONIST WILL NOT ALLOW MANAGEMENT OF THE WOLF POPULATION, AND THE L.P. DEER WILL BE GONE BECAUSE YOU CAN NOT STOP CWD ONCE IT GETS
STARTED.

Rob E
Sun, 11/19/2017 - 11:31am

I'm a retired wildlife biologist, and a hunter as well, and I agree with you. We did have two severe winters (2012/13 and 2013/14) which reduced deer numbers quite a bit in the U.P., where I live and hunt. But since then, winters have been mild, and the deer population has rebounded strongly. Yet, for the last 3 years, MDNR has issued virtually no antlerless permits for the vast majority of the U.P.. And they have restricted archery hunting to bucks-only also, which is really unjustified. So I sit in blind each deer season now, and watch many, many does walk by me every time I hunt.... and I cannot harvest one. Why? I would be happy to harvest a doe to feed my family, and there is no doubt that some of them need to be harvested. Meanwhile, the damage to vegetation where I hunt is extreme - native plants and trees are browsed back severely, allowing buckthorn and other non-native plants to move in. And, we now have CWD moving closer to the U.P. each year.........a disease which spreads much faster when deer densities are high. To make things even worse, I just heard the other day that the NRC has extended the bucks-only rule for archery hunters in the U.P. through 2019! Are you kidding me? Sadly, there is nothing scientific about the way the deer herd in Michigan is managed these days - it's done mainly to please the big sportsmens groups, who ALWAYS want more deer on the landscape. And don't even get me started on "antler-point restrictions" that the trophy hunters keep pushing......if they succeed in convincing MDNR to expand areas where that is mandated, it will further restrict my ability to harvest a deer for the venison. Then I will sit and watch not only does walk by, but probably a lot of bucks with smaller antlers as well, and not be able to harvest anything!! It's almost enough to make me give up on deer hunting, and I am not alone, believe me.

John Saari
Sun, 11/19/2017 - 1:44pm

Not enough facts. How does Michigan compare with other States? What attempts have been made to reduce crop damage? Is it the number of deer or the number of vehicles on the road that is the problem. Reduce the deer population around killing roads and certain crops.

Carol H
Sun, 11/19/2017 - 3:09pm

I, too, have been frustrated by the over-abundance of deer browsing in my area. I've watched them in my garden on several occasions taking a nibble here and another mouthful in the next row, etc. Fortunately, we are allowed to hunt doe. I estimate that approximately 20 deer have been harvested from a one-mile radius around my rural, SW Michigan home so far this season. I'm grateful for the hunter who shares some of the venison with us.
Isn't it possible, however, that a loss of habitat is actually a contributing factor in the large number of car/deer accidents-at least in some parts of the state? I have watched many fence rows and forest patches removed forcing deer and other mammals to travel farther to find food and shelter. Since we've removed so much of "their" habitat, we shouldn't be surprised that they are invading "ours".
Though I don't believe we need more deer, I do believe we need to have a greater diversity of habitat in areas where agriculture has created a near mono-culture. And I think we need to admit that increasing speed limits in rural areas increases the likelihood of colliding with animals that are just trying to adapt to life in our greatly modified environment.

zopilote
Sun, 11/19/2017 - 3:27pm

I agree with Trout Master. It is my opinion that most folks who shoot deer in Michigan during firearms season are not hunters. Instead they are harvesters who kill deer coming to bait. In Pennsylvania, where I grew up, we learned to hunt deer, studying their habits. Most of our "hunting" took place before the season opened.

Linda
Mon, 11/20/2017 - 10:38am

Tell Ann Arbor city council that we do not have enough deer. This winter will be the third that parks will be closed to residents and open only to sharp shooters killing the deer.