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Upper Peninsula running low on deer

Ken Bosma

The deer herd in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is so depleted the state is even talking about closing the firearm season this year. It’s just one option listed in a report to the Natural Resources Commission about possible responses to the situation.

Wildlife biologists estimate the population of deer in the UP is at its lowest level in 30 years. Extremely cold winters, particularly in 2014, are to blame, according to the report.

Ray Lyon does not expect the state will stop hunting in the UP altogether. Lyon is a bow hunter who lives in Traverse City and has hunted in the UP for more than 20 years. He’s also been involved in crafting management policy through his involvement with Michigan Bow Hunters.

He has confidence biologists can rebuild the population.

If we let them do their jobs then we’ll be good,” he says.

Scientific considerations are not the only ones weighed when managing deer. Insurance companies have a stake because a larger deer herd means more car accidents. Deer graze farm fields and hunting organizations sometimes prefer certain management priorities like more big bucks.

Any change to reverse the decline in the UP will be complicated as many hunters already have purchased licenses that are valid in 2015. It would be confusing because the amended rules would be different than those for hunting below the Mackinac Bridge.

And the Upper Peninsula doesn’t need another drag on tourism.

While deer hunting has not been great in recent years, many hunters faithfully return to deer camp every fall. Norm Licht, also from Tarverse City, has been going for more than 30 years to hunt near the Wisconsin border, but he isn’t sure he’d continue going if there was no hunt.

“Maybe we’d go golfing,” Licht says, “But I’m not much of a golfer.”

A decision could be made in June.

Peter Payette is the Executive Director of Interlochen Public Radio.