WildLife Wednesday: New Year, Old-School Conservation

Drew YoungeDyke, Field Manager Drew YoungeDyke, Field Manager
When MUCC was founded, I doubt anyone foresaw that we’d have to defend fair-chase hunting principles from hunting with drones. But new technologies are always emerging; I even finally bought an iPhone, catching up with the current decade’s technology halfway through. This was as much for the functionality as to halt the ceaseless jokes from Resource Policy Manager Amy Trotter about my now-retired stone-age (but indestructible) flip-phone.
While technology continues to evolve and progress, the basic principles of conservation hold steady. So even as we crest the midway point of the twenty-teens, we’re seeing trends and implementing programs that MUCC recognized midway through the last century.
A few weeks ago I was flipping through the October 1951 edition of Michigan OutofDoors Magazine (which we’ve been publishing since 1947!). There were three articles that really caught my attention, because they’re as relevant today as when they were written.
MUCC ahead of its time in 1951 MUCC ahead of its time in 1951
The first was the cover story, “Deer Hunting Robinhood Style,” by Lulu M. Stalker (a great name for an outdoor writer, don’t you think?).  As you probably guessed, the topic was bowhunting, but specifically encouraging presumably male readers to encourage females to take up bowhunting:
“This is a mighty fine antidote for the ‘deer-hunter-widow’ complex of hers. Instead of staying home anxiously poring over the reports of mounting fatalities, she’ll be sitting beside a stump or in a blind down the trail a bit from you, holding her breath, the same as you at every cracking twig or stealthy footstep,” she writes.
And while some of the language is slightly condescendingly sexist for today’s standards, even from a female writer, its connection to today’s recruitment and retention data is unmistakable: females are now the fastest-growing segment of new hunters, including many archers. Some of this has been attributed to the popularity of movies like The Hunger Games, but doubtless scholastic and youth archery programs have helped, too, and let’s not forget all the amazing volunteers (including many, many MUCC members) teaching hunter’s safety courses to keep new hunters safe in the field so that we no longer have all those "mounting fatalities!"
But don’t forget about the importance of mentoring, as the article suggested. I was really excited see in the most recent issue of Quality Whitetails that MUCC On the Ground volunteer and QDMA member Kevin Peltier and his girlfriend Rachael Moen were featured for almost exactly what Stalker suggested over 65 years ago, when he encouraged her to start hunting, taught her how and now she’s hooked!
How cool is this illustration! How cool is this illustration!
The next article was titled “Michigan’s Game Habitat Program,” by W.C. Ryder and L.C. Rush of the “Game Division, Department of Conservation” (now the Wildlife Division, Department of Natural Resources). The article opened by quoting a 1947 recommendation by MUCC’s Upland Game Committee:
“It is the opinion of our committee that the road to more game is a long-time program in habitat improvement and that the most constructive step MUCC affiliates could take would be a statewide sportsmen program through conservation clubs tending toward the improvement of the area in the clubs’ vicinity, assisted by field men from our own Conservation Department…”
Clubs have been conducting local projects for years, but in 2013 we finally launched that “statewide” program with On the Ground (OTG), after the 2011 Volunteer Bill cleared out some bureaucratic hurdles to volunteers improving public land habitat. Since then, we’ve completed 27 fish and wildlife habitat improvement projects across the state (you can sign up for the next one near Grayling here). And this February the Hillsdale Conservation Club will be doing their own project removing autumn olive and creating rabbitat at the Lost Nation State Game Area, which sounds a lot like “tending toward the improvement of the area in the clubTimeless. Timeless.
Finally, on page 28, there is an article by then-Chairman of State Legislation for MUCC, Bernard Ansley, that should resonate with every MUCC member: “Why Your Conservation Commission Should Set Game Laws.”
For anyone who thinks that the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act was about going around the voters by having the Natural Resources Commission determine game species (as the anti-hunters claimed), realize that MUCC has supported the principle of scientific fish and wildlife management since we were founded in 1937 to fight a bill that would have stripped authority from the commission.
Back then, though, the Legislature still set game regulations.
“As early as 1939, Michigan United Conservation Clubs recognized the problem and had introduced in the Legislature a bill which would have given the Conservation Commission the authority to set seasons, bag and creel limits on all species of game and fish,” wrote Ansley.
It was long time coming to achieve this, though. In 1996, MUCC and the first Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management led the statewide voter-approved passage of Proposal G, which finally gave the Natural Resources Commission authority over method and manner of take decisions for existing game species. However, it left out naming game species (a loophole that anti-hunters exploited to ban dove hunting and attempted to exploit to ban wolf hunting in Michigan), as well as fisheries decisions.
And that’s exactly what the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act does, which will take effect in March as Public Act 281 of 2014: it gives the Natural Resources Commission full authority to “set seasons, bag and creel limits on all species of game and fish,” just as MUCC has been advocating for since 1939! While wolves will not be able to be added to the game list until they’re once again removed from Endangered Species Act after a lone federal judge put them back on, this has no effect on the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which will ensure that the Natural Resources Commission, applying principles of sound scientific fish and wildlife management and the professional judgment of state biologists, will be able to set a hunting season for them in Michigan when things are straightened out at the federal level.
The reasoning behind this decision-making structure is the same as it was in 1939, as Ansley explained:
This is a picture of Fred Bear in MUCC's October 1951 Michigan Out-of-Doors This is a picture of Fred Bear in MUCC's October 1951 Michigan Out-of-Doors
“Game management simply means the regulation of the number of a species so that it will be in balance with its food supply. Application of the principle is, however, a matter for trained experts. They know the reproductive capacity, how to determine the amount of food the area produces, how many of the species will be taken under different hunting regulations, and how to evaluate other factors involved in game production. These are many and varied and beyond the knowledge of the average layman. Those who practice game management must know the underlying scientific principles. Only intensive training and work in the field can qualify men for this profession…The Game Division certainly is able to furnish the Conservation Commission with all the scientific facts and figures it needs.”
And women too! Remember, this was written in 1951. But the underlying principle of conservation is the same: fish and wildlife decisions should be determined by professional biologists.
Much has changed between 1951 and 2015. But some things haven’t: Hunting can be for everyone, male or female; we should volunteer to improve public land wildlife habitat and support the improvement of private land wildlife habitat; and fish and wildlife decisions should be based on sound science and made by the Natural Resources Commission by relying on professional biologists. Implementing these principles hasn’t been easy. But that’s exactly what we’re doing now, even when we're using the latest gadgets to get it done.
Drew YoungeDyke is the Field & Public Relations Manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs

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