Historically poor 2014 deer season big part of year outdoors

HOUGHTON – The year 2014 outdoors featured lawsuits, regulation changes and ballot initiatives but when all was said and done, the most memorable part was a historically poor firearm deer season.

Two consecutive severe winters led the Michigan DNR to issue a gloomy projection for the 2014 firearm deer season in advance of the 2014 opener and heavily curtail the number of available antlerless licenses in some regions. That came down before a major storm dumped multiple feet of snow on the Upper Peninsula in early November, then followed by an extended pattern of lake effect squalls that made it nearly impossible for some hunters to even get to their camps and blinds, much less find a buck.

The annual count of deer crossing the Mackinac Bridge was the lowest since the bridge opened in 1957, and was 47 percent lower than 2013, also widely considered to be a bad deer season. The total of 2,233 was less than a third of the average total.

Some have blamed the resurgence of wolves as negatively impacting the deer herd, and an issue that has been tossed back and forth continued on multiple fronts throughout the year.

First, Michigan voters were presented a pair of referenda designed to give the Natural Resources Commission authority to designate game species and schedule a wolf hunt. Both were defeated, though the victory for wolf advocates was rendered moot in August well before a ballot was cast when the state legislature passed a law that both gave the authority legislatively to the NRC to establish game species (which previously required an act of the Legislature) and included an appropration toward Asian carp management. Any bill that includes an appropration cannot be overturned by referendum.

The state had already scrapped plans for a second wolf hunt in 2014 because of the animal’s legal limbo. However, any further lethal management of wolves is indefinitely on hold after U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Powell voided the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2012 decision to remove the animals (with the Upper Midwest region) from the federal endangered species list, calling the move “arbitrary and capricious.”

Until the lawsuit, originally brought by a coalition of wolf advocates led by the Humane Society of the United States, is appealed to a higher court or wolves taken off the list by an act of Congress, the gray wolf remains a federally protected endangered species. Neither landowners nor the DNR can legally kill a wolf, except in immediate defense of human life.

The DNR made significant changes in its license structure that went into effect this year. DNR officials trimmed the number of license types from 220 to 43 and instituted the first increase in prices in 15 years.

A new base license is required before one can buy a season-specific license. Money from the base license is not specifically targeted toward management of a single species and increases the flexibility of the DNR’s funding pool.

In U.P. fishing news, new restrictions on trout fishing in the lower portions of several U.P. streams would boost the rehabiliation of the coaster brook trout in and near Lake Superior. The regulations, which would change the bag limit to one and size minimum to 20 inches, would be in place for 10 years and are going before the NRC for approval in March.