2017-07-20 / Outdoors

State continues deer damage program

By Alan Campbell
Of The Enterprise staff

THIS FAWN was spied at the end of a driveway in Centerville Township recently, peeking out from behind giant burdock leaves. Photo by Matt Walter. THIS FAWN was spied at the end of a driveway in Centerville Township recently, peeking out from behind giant burdock leaves. Photo by Matt Walter. After a three-year trial, regulations governing how and when farmers are allowed to shoot deer causing crop damage will remain in place for at least one more year.

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission, which met last week in Lansing, voted to continue to allow use of firearms for deer management during the early archery season and provide permits to shoot what are termed “problem bucks” in the fall.

The Deer Assistance Management Program (DMAP) has been successful, according to MDNR Deer Program Specialist Ashley Autenrieth, while having little effect on overall deer populations.

Harvest results provided by Autenrieth showed that only one in six antlerless deer taken in the five-county area including Leelanau were taken by DMAP permits.

The antlered buck program, designed to allow farmers to kill bucks that were rubbing on fruit tree, was rarely used.

“We’re not expecting a major impact here. This went on for three years, and during that time we had five bucks taken across five counties,” Autenrieth said.

Leelanau County fruit grower Ben LaCross, District 9 Director with the Michigan Farm Bureau, says the out-of-season buck permits can help individual farmers who face the loss of young fruit trees by a deer that can be singled out.

“It’s been used by a few folks in Antrim County, maybe a couple in Benzie and one or two in Leelanau,” LaCross said. “It hasn’t been widely adopted, and farmers don’t want to go that route. It’s helpful in acute situations, but it hasn’t impacted hunting or population numbers either way,” he said.

Some hunters objected to the problem buck program, as well as a change that provided farmers who could prove crop damage to shoot antlerless deer during the archery deer season.

Said Autenrieth of the out-of-season buck permits, “There were more people there in support of it than they’ve shot bucks in three years. I don’t feel the program is good for hunter-farmer relationships.”

The NRC rejected a recommendation to expand the pilot program from five fruit-growing counties in northwest Michigan to across the state and make other changes. Instead, the pilot program was retained for another year, after which a recommendations for changes will be heard.

The program had strong support from the Farm Bureau.

The biggest impacts on many county hunters, though, are occurring outside of the DMAP program.

The Natural Resources Commissions made permanent an expansion of the quality deer management program to counties beyond Leelanau. Anter point restrictions (APRs) set in place in 2002 in Leelanau County were expanded to 12 counties in Northwestern Michigan on an experimental basis three years ago.

APRs were made permanent by the Natural Resources Commission following completion of a survey showing support by 76 percent of hunters.

The survey was ordered one year early to align a decision with the three-year window established for deer regulations.

McNitt was glad to see the survey results as Leelanau absorbed pressure from hunters seeking to shoot bigger bucks when it was the only county in northern Michigan with APRs.

“That helps spread things out,” McNitt said. “That was a good number to see, a positive thing.”

But in a trend that LaCross expects to continue, county hunters will have fewer orchards to hunt as cherry growers continue to erect fences to keep deer out.

“It’s displaced a lot of hunters who had hunted on our lands for decades,” LaCross said. “Where do those guys go? To the national park? And if deer can’t move through our orchards, they are going to neighboring properties. We’ve already herd from neighbors of our properties who lost ornamental plants to deer.”

LaCross said his family has fenced in about 200 acres of orchards in Centerville, Cleveland and Leelanau townships.

“I think it’s the only way to establish a young orchard throughout the majority of Leelanau County,” he added.

While the LaCrosses are putting up fences to separate deer from cherry trees, Ben LaCross said cherries and deer do belong together. When processing venison from deer shot on their properties, they make sure to grind in tart cherries for flavor.

“That’s how we do it, and it makes a great venison burger,” he said.

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