HOUGHTON - A new director and a new program for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources were some of the major outdoors stories in the Upper Peninsula for 2011.
Rodney Stokes was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in March to become the DNR's new director and has emphasized four major points thus far: improving customer service, promoting the new Recreation Passport program, reversing the decline in hunting and fishing license sales and promoting the state's natural resources economy.
Stokes also had a 'new-old' department to helm, as the re-splitting of what was the Department of Natural Resources and Environment was changed back to two separate entities, the DNR and the Department of Environmental Quality, at the beginning of the year.
The recreation passport, which launched in October of 2010, has proven to be very successful.
For a $10 additional fee while paying their annual vehicle registration or visiting a state park, Michigan residents can gain entry into state parks and recreational facilities.
DNR spokesperson Mary Detloff said in March that reservations at state parks were up 15 percent from the year before.
During the summer, day use at McLain State Park in Hancock Township was up by a significant margin.
Late in the year, the DNR learned it would regain control of wolf management in Michigan as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will return control of the species to states in January.
The final rule removing wolves from the federal endangered species list was published this week and takes effect Jan. 27, allowing the state to implement a wolf management plan approved in 2008 that allowed livestock and dog owners the ability to kill wolves in the act of attacking their property or possessions.
Locally, a radio-collared cougar extended its travels into the Copper Country. It was first spotted on a trail camera in Ontonagon County in mid-September and was later located in Houghton County a few weeks later and on a trail camera north of Hancock in November.
DNR officials believe it may have traveled from as far as the Dakotas. They insist the state does not have a breeding population. Regardless, the state doesn't have a radio collaring program for the animal and has attempted to check frequencies to determine where it came from.
The 2011 firearm deer season appears to have been decent, as DNR figures indicate a 14.3 percent increase in deer brought to Upper Peninsula check stations over the year before, though license sales were slightly down from 2010.
The DNR also modified restrictions on hunting ages, allowing youths as young as 10 to hunt with a firearm if directly supervised by an adult starting next season.
The winter also saw the United States Ski and Snowboard Association bring its SuperTour to Michigan Tech, as hundreds of Nordic skiers of all ages and ability levels took on the Michigan Tech trails for the three-day meet in late January.