This Thursday February 9, the Natural Resources Commission will be hosting one of their meetings at the MSU Diagnostic Center beginning at 9am. Starting at 1:00pm the NRC Policy Committee on Wildlife and Fisheries will be giving presentations on migratory game bird hunting seasons, and up for discussion are the bear regulations and license quotas. In an effort to stabilize bear regulations and quotas, reduce confusion, and enhance communications, the NRC and Wildlife Division agreed to begin a two-year regulatory cycle back in 2014. With those two years up, the Committee will be discussing the requests and considerations for regulation changes for the 2017 cycle. Read on for more information regarding those recommendations!!
Based on stakeholder requests and subsequent feedback from the Law Enforcement Division (LED), Bear Forum Members, and the internal Department Bear Workgroup, the Department of Natural Resources reviewed current regulations and considered the following possible changes: 1) allow bear baiting earlier in Michigan; 2) reserve the first ten days - rather than five - for bait hunters in Upper Peninsula (UP) Bear Management Units (BMUs); 3) allow the use of barrels on public lands and commercial forest lands; 4) increase the non-resident license purchase limit from two percent to five percent of the total license quota; 5) enact a complete ban on chocolate and cocoa derivatives as bear bait; and 6) implement concurrent season openers statewide.
Regarding recommendations 1) allowing bear baiting earlier in Michigan and recommendation 2) reserving the first 10 days (rather than 5) for bait hunters in the UP Region, the Department has decided not to support either proposal after further discussion with stakeholders and staff during and after the December 17, 2016 Bear Forum Meeting. Approximately 80% of the yearly bear harvest is attributed to hunting over bait and success rates in the UP Region are very good, therefore they see no need to allocate additional opportunities to bait hunters and less opportunities to hound hunters.
In terms of recommendation 3) allowing the use of barrels on public lands and commercial forest lands, which MUCC has held strong opposition too, the Department has decided not to bring forward the recommendation. Allowing the use of barrels for bear baiting on public and commercial forest lands may increase the amount of hunters who use bait to attract or harvest bears, which could also increase the number of bear hunters on public lands, as well as the potential for increased litter, and could cause additional territorial issues among hunters, wolf/dog hunting conflicts, and conflicts with off-trail off –road vehicle (ORV) activity.
In regards to the fourth recommendation; increasing the non-resident license purchase limit from 2% to 5% of the Total License Quota, the Department is generally supportive, though many didn’t have a direct opinion due to its lack of biological nature, it will be recommended at the meeting to increase the non-resident license purchase from 2% to 5% beginning in 2017.
Recommendation 5) implementing a complete ban on chocolate derivatives in bear bait, has been supported by the DNR. Chocolate contains theobromine, which can be toxic to bears and other wildlife in high quantities. At the meeting the DNR will be recommending a complete ban on chocolate and cocoa derivatives. While MUCC's policy would support the regulation of chocolate (perhaps by volume or concentration) in lieu of an outright ban, we understand that the DNR Law Division finds this would be unenforceable and there is no precedent in other states for doing this, and thus we are supporting this recommendation to remove this risk to our wildlife. The DNR has been already doing outreach to known major bait dealers on this so that they may make adjustments to their production and/or prices to produce chocolate-free bait. MUCC has asked that DNR Law Division have the discretion in the field to educate bear hunters on this new law (if enacted) instead of issuing citations in the first year of implementation. MUCC will also be doing what we can to educate our members on the new regulation if enacted by the NRC through the summer in the lead up to baiting/bear season.
Recommendation 6) implementing concurrent season openers statewide was proposed at the Bear Forum Meeting, however, since the proposal was not brought to the Department prior to the Bear Forum Meeting, the data hadn’t had a chance to be reviewed, so the Department staff is being consulted presently to develop and provide an opinion for the NRC meeting.
By keeping regulations consistent, the public is better able to understand regulations, and law enforcement is better able to enforce compliance. If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to drop by and voice your opinion! If you’re unable to attend the meeting but wish to submit written comments on Agenda items, please write to: Natural Resource Commission, P.O. Box 30028, Lansing, MI 48909 or email Cheryl Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org. The agenda and other Natural Resource Commission items can be found online at http://www.michigan.gov/nrc.