This is a response from the Lower Peninsula Deer Management Initiative in Michigan in response to an opinion column by Richard Smith in the October issue of Deer & Deer Hunting. Smith lives in Michigan and is a longtime hunter and contributor to DDH.
Dan Schmidt, Editor
August 8th 2013
Deer and Deer Hunting Magazine
Dear Mr. Schmidt:
We are the Lower Peninsula Deer Management Initiative (LPDMI), sponsors of Antler Point Restriction (APR) proposals that are currently under consideration by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) and the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) for implementation in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. We are a grass roots organization composed of Michigan hunters, and are not affiliated with the Quality Deer Management Association (QDMA). In fact, though some of us are members, several are not.
We are writing with regard to a recent opinion piece published in the September 2013 issue of Deer and Deer Hunting. The author, Richard P. Smith, is guilty of so many factual and conceptual errors in the article “Were we Betrayed?” that it is hard to know where to start. We will limit our response here mainly to his comments about antler point restrictions in Leelanau County Michigan.
Smith said, “Leelanau County is also in the northwestern Lower Peninsula and 2012 marked its 10th year under quality deer management regulations. Results there were supposed to serve as an example of why the rules should be expanded to 12 more counties in the region. DNR data does not indicate the regulations were a success, however…” Later he stated, “I’ve made repeated requests to the wildlife division since January for buck harvest data for Leelanau County before quality deer management rules went into effect to compare with those after 2003 and have not received that information.”
As a matter of fact, the information Smith claims he was not able to obtain has been widely disseminated in Michigan. The LPDMI has conducted 14 public information meetings regarding our proposal as mandated by the MDNR and the NRC. In each of those meetings, in thousands of posters, tens of thousands of brochures, on our website, and in our Facebook page, we detailed the buck harvest results of APRs in Leelanau County. This includes both pre-APR and post-APR data collected and reported by the MDNR. Moreover, the sponsoring group for the recently implemented and 12 county proposal mentioned in Smith’s article also provided Leelanau County data. Everything presented was derived from published MDNR data, and all LPDMI public information meeting presentations were reviewed by MDNR biologists.
Buck harvest data is readily available for the three years prior to implementation of APR’s in Leelanau County. Each year the DNR publishes a report, available to the public, detailing the results of the annual check station data. In the three years prior to implementation of APRs in Leelanau County, 67% of antlered bucks brought in to check stations were yearlings. Averaged over the five years from 2007-‐2011 that number has dropped to 27%. Harvest of bucks 3 1/2 years and older has risen from 13% before APR’s to 44 % after APR’s (figure 1). In comparison, yearling buck harvest in the Northern and Southern Lower Peninsula averaged 58% and 67% respectively during the same five-‐year period.
Leelanau County harvests the highest percentage of 8 point and larger bucks in the state, by a wide margin. Prior to APRs, only 34% of the check station bucks in Leelanau County had eight points or more. Averaging over the five years from 2007-2011, that number has risen to 61%. Compare that to 34% in the Upper Peninsula, 25% in the rest of the Northern Lower Peninsula, and 36% in the Southern Lower Peninsula. That’s right, a county in a northern region with sandy acidic soils and average snowfalls of 120-140 inches per year harvests more 8 point and larger bucks than the agriculturally rich southern part of the state. All of this information has been widely distributed in Michigan and is readily available to any journalist who would genuinely like to see it.
What did hunters have to sacrifice for this? APRs were introduced in Leelanau County in 2003. In 2001 and 2002, Hunter success (bucks per hunter) was 21% and 23% respectively. That number fell to 15% during the first season (2003). Following that the buck harvest rate was 21% or higher in eight of nine subsequent seasons (range from 19% to 38%). Ultimately, hunters had to sacrifice only one season of reduced buck harvest (figure 2).
It is no surprise that when hunters were surveyed after five years of antler point restrictions in 2008, 72% of respondents were in favor of continuing them. Nor is it a surprise that 68.5% of hunters from the surrounding 12 counties were in favor of adopting APR regulations when surveyed in 2012. The data on buck harvest in Leelanau County both before and after APR implementation had been widely distributed among hunters in the 12 expansion counties, contrary to Smith’s protestation that they were unavailable.
Smith further discusses the “underharvest of antlerless deer [in Leelanau County], along with corresponding increases in deer collisions and crop damage.’ The implication is that APRs had something to do with an increase in the deer population in Leelanau County. Smith fails to point out that in the two years prior to implementation of APRs, the antlerless tag quota in Leelanau County was 1250 and 1000, respectively. In 2003, the first year of APRs, that number fell to 700. During the last six seasons, it has hovered between 200 and 400 antlerless permits per year. It is this substantial decrease in the availability of antlerless permits that has likely led to increased population levels in Leelanau County. The DNR has recently responded to this issue by increasing the availability of antlerless permits in Leelanau County to 1400 for the 2013 seasons.
It is a well-known fact that population control is a function of antlerless harvest, not antlered buck harvest. The overpopulation of deer in Leelanau County is a direct result of inadequate antlerless harvest quotas.
Given his fervent opposition to antler point restrictions in Michigan, it is not surprising that Smith does not like to discuss the readily available data highlighting both the striking improvement in the age structure of bucks and the high level of support among hunters for the existing APR’s in Leelanau County. His claim that buck harvest data was not available prior to institution of APR’s in Leelanau County is overtly disingenuous, as is his premise that antler point restrictions led to increased deer populations in Leelanau County. Like many anti-APR activists in Michigan, Smith chooses to ignore the data showing the outstanding results in Leelanau County, and instead focus his efforts on nuances about the process, and accusations of impropriety against the Michigan DNR. This includes his uncontested, unsupported accusations of a “cover-up” by the Michigan DNR and Natural Resources Commission on Mike Avery’s “Outdoor Magazine” radio program on July 27th, 2013.
There were many other errors, misinterpretations of data, or outright misleading statements in Smith’s article. For example, in his list of purported “pitfalls” of mandatory APRs, under #5 he says, “In the UP, 15% of 1.5 year old bucks have fewer than three points on an antler, and about 8% of 5 1/2 year old bucks fall into that category.” He includes a figure on the top of page 106 to support this statement. The only problem is, he is dead wrong. The figure does not reveal how many points are on an antler. It is taken from a report published by the Michigan DNR in 2012 called “Evaluation of Upper Peninsula Buck management options.” The figure records the total number of points on a buck’s entire rack, not the number of points on an antler. For example, a buck missing one beam that had 4 points on the remaining antler would be cited by Smith as having fewer than 3 points on one antler. He does not even understand the only bona fide data from a citable source that he included?
This is just one example of the many additional errors he made.
In his “pitfall number 13”, he says, “Voluntary antler point restrictions can be as effective as mandatory rules with education.” Ignoring the fact that this can hardly be considered a “pitfall”, the degree of internal inconsistency it reveals is incredible. Smith is widely known to support voluntary, but not mandatory APRs. He says in item 13 that they both achieve the same thing. If so, then most of the other 19 “pitfalls” apply to voluntary, as well as mandatory APRs. It makes no rational sense for him to be in favor of voluntary APRs if he really believes in the “pitfalls” he lists, which are in essence an indictment of any successful APR program. We submit that he is in favor of voluntary APRs only because he believes they do not work. If Smith were to state he just does not want to be told what to shoot, we would have no reason to protest his comments. However, he clearly goes down a different path that not only contradicts itself, but also perpetuates many scientifically disproven myths.
We note, with great disappointment, that there did not appear to be a genuine attempt to gather input from us, from the local sponsoring group for the 12 county proposal, or even from the Michigan DNR (the biggest target of Smith’s diatribe). Instead you chose to interview a national representative from QDMA. Although some of us know him personally and have great admiration for the editor of Quality Whitetails magazine, he has not been directly involved in any of the proposals or privy to the specifics of the Michigan process.
Putting the header “Opinion” above the piece hardly absolves Deer and Deer Hunting of the journalistic responsibility to ensure that at least some of the author’s points have merit. The timing is such that the piece came out less than 6 weeks before the Lower Peninsula APR hunter support survey will be sent out by the MDNR on the 15th of September. Michigan hunters deserve better than a last minute, one-sided 6- page diatribe from an anti-APR zealot. Insult was added to injury when Ted Nugent, who long ago renounced his Michigan residency to move to Texas, was given a page to pile on with an anti-‐APR rant, while no-one directly involved in the process from Michigan was asked to provide a counter-point.
Attached is a preprint of an article about Leelanau county, entitled “The Best Deer Hunting County in Michigan” authored by LPDMI member Dr. Jim Brauker, which will appear in the next edition of Woods-‐N-Waters News. We are requesting that Deer and Deer Hunting magazine make a concerted effort to publish the information about our current initiative prior to the September survey date. As subscribers and/or readers of your highly respected publication, we expect a balanced and factual debate on the important issues affecting the whitetail world, and not just a sensationalistic narrow view from celebrity contributors.
The Lower Peninsula Deer Management Initiative
PO Box 285 Holt MI 48842
President and Spokesperson
Chief Financial Officer
St. Johns, MI
Attachments: Figure 1 and figure 2