HOUGHTON - In 2009, outdoors news in Michigan was punctuated by stories of scarcity, both in the woods and on the bottom line.
The most important story of the year was the reunion of the state's Department of Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Quality, which will take effect in January after Gov. Jennifer Granholm merged the two by executive order in October.
The two were split 14 years ago by then-Gov. John Engler.
Michigan DNR Director Becky Humphries and Natural Resources Commissioner Keith Charters review papers during the NRC’s October meeting in Ontonagon. Earlier that day, they were informed that the DNR was merging with the Department of Environmental Quality in one of the year’s biggest outdoors stories. (DMG photo by Michael H. Babcock)
The new department, to be known as the Department of Natural Resources and Enviroment, was created in response to a government-slimming initiative that is cutting the number of state departments in response to Michigan's ongoing budget crisis.
A new DNRE director has yet to be selected, but in a change from previous policy, it is slated to be chosen by the governor. The DNR director was previously selected by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission.
Much is still to be determined about the new department, which will begin to exist Jan. 17. A DNR release projects a savings of $1.5 million in administrative costs when the merger is fully implemented.
The merger was announced just hours before the NRC held its monthly meeting in Ontonagon in October. The NRC will continue to regulate taking of game and many of its other current functions, as well as assuming the functions of several other smaller bodies.
At the October meeting, NRC members heard from the public on a variety of topics, particularly regarding the state's regulation of deer feeding and baiting. Authority for supplemental winter feeding was extended by the state legislature recently, but there is concern about how Chronic Wasting Disease may impact that policy in the U.P. After CWD was found on a downstate deer farm in 2008, the NRC regulated that baiting and feeding would be banned throughout the U.P. if CWD was found within 50 miles of the U.P.'s borders.
In the woods, the 2009 firearm deer season was unusually barren for many U.P. hunters. A variety of factors conspired to drive down the buck count, chief among them a long and harsh 2008-09 winter, unseasonably warm weather for the first week of the season, unusually high natural food production limiting the effectiveness of baiting and regulations designed to limit the number of young bucks taken. Many sportsmen believe predators such as coyotes and wolves are influencing the decline as well, but the DNR has not attributed it to those factors.
DNR estimates peg the decline in deer taken at 20 to 30 percent from 2008 levels.
A rare bit of good news for the DNR was a significant increase in proceeds from gun and ammunition sales nationwide directed toward wildlife research, game management and hunter education.
Michigan will be allocated $17 million from the federal tax assessed through the Pittman-Robertson Act, which is based on hunting license sales and amount of state-owned land.
Concern that political transition would result in increased gun regulation led to a nationwide jump in gun and ammo sales. Nationwide tax collections on those goods increased 46 percent from Oct. 2008 through Sept. 2009.
Brandon Veale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.