The Opener: The Story of the Three Bears, What is Just Right?

You know the story... Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks and 3 bears--and a quest for porridge, a chair, and a bed that was "Just right".
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources uses many factors in determining recommendations for the local Bear Management Unit (BMU) license quotas to meet the desired population goal, including stakeholder input at the Michigan Bear Forum, mast abundance, biological data from harvested bears, human-bear conflicts, hunter harvest success rates, tetracycline baits (U.P.), baited hair snares (L.P.), biologists’ observations, the newest statistical catch at age analytic, and public input.
For the Upper Peninsula BMUs, the license quotas are then designed to spread the bear harvest evenly among the three hunt periods. Additionally, 10 percent of the desired harvest in the Gwinn and Newberry BMUs must be allocated to tribes within the 1836 Ceded Territories.
So in short, there are a lot of things to look at when it comes to setting population goals and desired trends for bear, and then the license quotas that follow. These license quotas must be approved by the Natural Resources Commission and are up for information this week and they will act on them in April.
How do we know what is "Just right?"
There has already been a lot of back and forth about what people think the license quotas should be given what they are seeing in the woods. The DNR Bear Forum, a group of hunting organizations (including MUCC) and individual bear hunters, met in December to discuss the data and agreed that the DNR's recommendation on quotas that has been forwarded to the NRC was appropriate. The desired population goal is to continue to see a growth in the bear population over the next two years.
When members of the Bear Forum looked at the data from past seasons, we could see that average bear hunter success rates were higher than they had been in previous years. While there were fewer tags available over the last three seasons, the population remained flat rather than growing as expected. Accordingly, the U.P. will need fewer tags available to harvest the same or fewer number of bears in order to affect a slow but noticeable growth in the population. The Bear Forum and the DNR agreed that this was the path to continue down and the possible downside of bear-human conflicts were still going to be manageable, as they are today.
Some have shown concern for the impact of a growing bear population on deer in the U.P. The impact on the deer herd is a much more complex topic and involves the interaction of factors including winter weather, habitat, and predation. The Upper Peninsula Predator-Prey study (which began in 2008 and continues today) provides high quality research that indicates that the predation from bears on white-tailed deer is small and evidence to date has suggested that coyotes kill more fawns than bears do in the U.P. So yes, bear predation on fawns exists, but the important work the U.P. Habitat Workgroup is undertaking in ensuring the protection and management of winter deer complexes is going to be a far more beneficial to U.P. deer than increasing bear hunting license quotas.
There are a lot of moving parts in managing big game in the U.P. Adaptive management is never just "one bite at the apple", it includes implementation, collection of information, and regular evaluation. MUCC is supporting these proposed bear license quota recommendations for this 2-year regulation cycle, as are the Michigan Bear Hunters Association, Michigan Hunting Dog Federation, and U.P. Bear Houndsmen Association. It's likely that these quotas will never be "Just right" for everyone and ever-changing circumstances means that the DNR, the Bear Forum, the NRC, and the public will go through this all again in 2017, to look at the data, the trends, and see where we are at.
MUCC members will have their change to weigh in on what you think our organization should be advocating for in regards to bear management--there are going to be at least 3 resolutions coming to our Annual Convention in June. Stay tuned to learn more about how you can get involved in Convention as a club delegate or individual member.
Share and tell us what you think in the comments: Do you think the U.P. bear population is too high, too low, or just right?

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