Wildlife Wednesday: Michigan Programs Work Toward National Goals

Drew YoungeDyke, Public Relations Manager Drew YoungeDyke,
Public Relations Manager
Reading Outdoor Life's account of the fifteen resolutions for the new National Deer Alliance to come out of last week's North American Deer Summit in Louisville, it's encouraging to see that hunters and hunting advocates in Michigan are already working on some of them.
Click here to read the full list of National Deer Alliance resolutions at OutdoorLife.com
There are a few that I'd like to highlight, though, that we're doing here in Michigan. Hopefully some of our programs can serve as a model for other states, but also, we may need to beef up some of these programs, too.
Under the "Hunter Recruitment and Retention" category, one of the NDA's resolutions is to "summarize and disseminate contributions of hunters into big-picture conservation." Here in Michigan, we have a new program through the Michigan Wildlife Council to promote the contributions of hunters to conservation efforts. The program, modeled on a similar one from Colorado, is funded by $1.00 from each hunting and fishing license, and the council just selected the advertising firm that will create the campaign. The goal of the program is actually to improve the public perception of hunting, fishing and trapping (another NDA resolution).
North-American-Deer-SummitHunter recruitment and retention must be improved, though. At the April 11 Michigan Deer Management Summit, and again at last Thursday's Natural Resources Commission meeting, the Department of Natural Resources showed a graph with a steady decline in hunting participation in Michigan. Although Michigan has one of the highest populations of deer hunters in the nation at over 650,000, than number is projected to decline and has been on the decline from over a million in the mid-90's. This is something that we have to fix, because hunters and hunting licenses are how we pay for conservation, and provide a voting block to protect the rights of all hunters.
That's on the macro scale. On the micro scale, hunting provides individuals with healthy, high-protein and low-fat meat. Which brings me to another NDA resolution: Promoting the food and healthy lifestyle benefits of hunting. The Gourmet Gone Wild program is a cooperative venture between Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), the Boone & Crockett Club, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and Michigan State University Extension. It introduces urban- and suburbanites to wild game through sponsored events featuring gourmet wild game meat, often for young professional associations. Through this program, young adults are introduced to hunting through the health benefits of free-range, hormone-free and organic wild game as part of the "locavore" movement.
Another resolution is to "work with state/federal agencies and private landowners to encourage active habitat and fire management." MUCC, the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA), Pheasants Forever and the DNR have collaborated on a Wildlife Habitat Cooperative program, which is managed by Anna Mitterling. This program provides support to private landowners managing habitat on a landscape scale in cooperation with each other. Additionally, the DNR has formed an Upper Peninsula Habitat Workgroup to get commercial forest owners, hunters, and state and federal agency personnel on the same page to improve habitat, especially preserving wintering complexes, for deer in the U.P.
Volunteer George Fenlin, MUCC's Drew YoungeDyke and DNR Wildlife Tech Colter Luben plant crabapples for UP deer. Volunteer George Fenlin, MUCC's Drew YoungeDyke and DNR Wildlife Tech Colter Luben plant crabapples for UP deer.
On the public land habitat management side, license fee revenue funds a DNR Wildlife Habitat Grant program. At MUCC, we use a grant through this program - combined with support from the Saginaw Bay Watershed Initiative and Outdoor Life's Open Country initiative - to operate our On the Ground (OTG) volunteer wildlife habitat program. We organize volunteer projects to improve wildlife habitat on public hunting land. Last weekend, we planted crabapple trees on public land in the Escanaba State Forest with the DNR. Volunteer George Fenlin drove all the way from Clinton Township near Detroit to volunteer on this project, his fifth. On Sunday, May 24, we'll plant red oaks in Marquette County, all to provide long-term food for deer on public land in the U.P.
Under the "Public Perception of Hunting" category falls the goal to "develop hunter code of conduct that builds a positive popular image." Nothing erodes the public image of hunting more than poaching, especially poaching trophy animals. So here in Michigan, we passed a law - which originated as an MUCC resolution - last year which dramatically increased the restitution penalty for poaching trophy bucks. And just today, the Michigan Senate unanimously approved legislation that does the same for elk, moose, bear, turkey, waterfowl and eagle poachers. These bills originated in the MUCC policy process, too, showing that hunters police our own and cutting down on incidents which give all hunters a black eye.
That's especially important as anti-hunting groups continually try to politicize wildlife management issues to take away hunting rights. To curb political influences on hunting, one of the NDA's resolutions is to "advocate for scientific (rather than political) decision-making and advocate for wildlife agencies to remain authority in jurisdiction." We've been fighting that fight since MUCC was founded in 1937 as part of a successful effort to defend the autonomy of the Conservation Commission. At the end of March, the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act took effect in Michigan to ensure that the Natural Resources Commission, relying on DNR biologists, has the authority to name game species and require it to use sound science when doing so. That was the cumulative effort of months of collecting signatures by coalition of hunting, fishing and conservation groups, and the votes of the Michigan Legislature to approve it.
These initiatives are all small steps, but important and necessary ones. They are pieces to the puzzle of improving and preserving our heritage of hunting, fishing, trapping and conservation in Michigan and nationwide. The programs we have already devoted to achieving some of these goals can hopefully serve as a model to other states, and hopefully those programs modeled after ours will innovate, grow and provide example back to us to improve how we do things here. Because we have to get this right.

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