2018-03-15 / Outdoors

Deer herd had plenty to eat this winter, in fine shape

Disease concerns growing


MARK STEIMEL, a Lake Leelanau taxidermist, completed this project in January for Omena hunters Bob Joyce and Rocky Featherstone. They 2016 found the pair of bucks dead — with antlers tangled — on a West Grand Traverse Bay beach. The hope is to display the deer in a yet-to-be-built cabin in Leelanau County. MARK STEIMEL, a Lake Leelanau taxidermist, completed this project in January for Omena hunters Bob Joyce and Rocky Featherstone. They 2016 found the pair of bucks dead — with antlers tangled — on a West Grand Traverse Bay beach. The hope is to display the deer in a yet-to-be-built cabin in Leelanau County. The thought of Chronic Wasting Disease puts a knot in his stomach.

“It is not known exactly how CWD is transmitted,” said Steve Griffith, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Natural Resources Traverse City Customer Service Center. “It persists in the environment indefinitely. Once it’s in an area, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of that source of infection.”

The assumption is northern Michigan deer have steered clear of the disease to this point — but the DNR is doing its best to make sure it stays that way.

In fact, the DNR recently hired a disease specialist who will be stationed in Gaylord and work for the “whole northern lower” with an emphasis on CWD and bovine tuberculosis.

Griffith said the latter has shown up in cattle elsewhere in the state and that CWD remains a major concern, particularly in Montcalm County.

“We’re on alert, yes,” Griffith said.

The Michigan United Conservation Clubs, the largest statewide conservation organization in the nation, addressed the downstate CWD concerns in an email this week. The organization is working to ensure CWD receives a separate line item of at least $1 million in the state department’s $2.6 million wildlife disease budget.

The state allocated $1 million to CWD last year, and the organization “would like to see at least that” again.

Potential disease concerns aside, talk of the Leelanau Peninsula deer population is largely positive thanks to a third straight mild winter.

“I’m sure they did fine,” Griffith said. “I’ve been seeing quite a few, and the people I have talked with have been seeing fair numbers of deer.

“With a winter like this, they aren’t yarded up at all. They can get at stuff they normally might not be able to. It shouldn’t be bad out there, scraping or digging for acorns or other vegetation.”

Mark Steimel of Fur-Fish-Game Taxidermy of Lake Leelanau echoed a similar sentiment, saying he thought winter would be more challenging.

Steimel said he’s been seeing deer, and others in the county have, as well.

“We would have had some winter kill because we had no acorns,” he said. “It looks like they’re fine. The does carried the fawns through the winter.”

How did other critters do?

Griffith said turkey numbers appear to be up based on what he’s seen.

“They look pretty robust,” he said, adding that winter mortality among turkeys should be “negligible.”

While not a waterfowl expert, Griffith said it’s likely a similar story for ducks and geese.

With more open water around, he said, waterfowl don’t necessarily have to travel as far south.

“That saves energy,” he said.

Black bears also fared well.

Griffith said numbers are up, and the DNR responded accordingly last year by nearly doubling the Baldwin Unit’s annual bear quota.

“There’s little question as far as that goes,” he said when asked of the northern Michigan population. “We’ve already had reports of bear sightings.”

Editor’s note: Spot a deer? See a turkey? Snap a photo in time? We’d love to share it. Email any and all submissions to jason@leelanaunews.com.

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