Fewer fishing, hunting licenses mean less conservation money

By HALEY GABLE
Capital News Service

LANSING –  Revenue from hunting and fishing license sales decreased from $63.2 million in 2016 to $62.1 million in 2017, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Meanwhile, the number of licensed hunters and fishers has been declining over the last 20 years, DNR said.

The funds from licenses go directly to fisheries and wildlife conservation programs and make up the most of budget for those programs. When license sales decline, it means less money to support wildlife programs.

Nine percent of the DNR’s total budget comes from general tax dollars, and only 4.5 percent of that goes towards conservation, according to the department.  

The DNR increased licenses fees in 2014, which helped generate funds. However, DNR public information officer Ed Golder said there is no current plan to ask the Legislature for another increase.

Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) Executive Director Dan Eichinger said hunting and fishing licenses are the main source of funding for state conservation efforts. Getting people to buy licenses is essential to conservation and the benefits it brings to individuals, their communities and the state as whole.

Conservation plays a substantial role in the Michigan economy. According to the DNR, hunting, fishing and wildlife viewing contribute $3 billion annually to the state’s economy. Recreation related to hunting and fishing supports 33,000 jobs.

Eichinger said that the best way for citizens to support conservation is to purchase a hunting or fishing license because these funds must be allocated for wildlife conservation.

To generate money and increase license sales, Eichinger said there must be an effort to either grow the user base or be more efficient with funds.

MUCC has several programs to educate the public on how conservation benefits themselves, wildlife habitats and the economy.

For example, Gourmet Gone Wild is a program designed to expand the hunting user base. According to its website, the program is “designed to introduce young professionals to hunting and fishing in an innovative way: tasteful and healthy cuisine.”

Participants have the opportunity to learn about the health benefits of eating wild game and how hunting promotes conservation and sustainability.

Another program is the R3 Program, which stands for recruitment, retention and reactivation. According to MUCC public information officer Nick Green, it aims to inspire parents to take their children fishing and hunting.

“R3 is about getting parents on board in order to support the next generation,” said Green.  

The program provides tools for parents, children and others to learn how to fish and hunt. The hope is that people will enjoy these activities, continue to participate and, in turn, will renew their hunting and fishing licenses, he said.

The MUCC also holds an annual summer camp for children ages 9-16.

MUCC education coordinator Shaun McKeon said the camp focuses on teaching skills such as hunting and fishing, and educates campers on conservation science.  

Local communities can also participate in and benefit from statewide conservation efforts.

For example, in 2017, the Cheboygan Conservation District  participated in the Hunting Access Program, which provides the opportunity for private landowners to benefit financially from allowing hunters access to their land.

According to the district, six landowners enrolled last year.

State cranks up testing deer for chronic wasting disease

By CRYSTAL CHEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — The past deer hunting season witnessed a significant increase in the number of deer confirmed or suspected with chronic wasting disease (CWD), according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

More deer tests are needed, especially in counties that have not been sufficiently sampled, to identify the presence of the disease as well as to help develop an overall management plan, the department said.

CWD is a contagious neurological disease that affects deer and elk. It causes a spongy degeneration of the brains of infected animals and could result in emaciation, abnormal behavior, loss of bodily functions and, ultimately, death, according to the DNR.

Scientists believe CWD affects only members of the deer family, including white-tailed deer, mule deer, elk and moose, said John Niewoonder, a biologist and field operations manager for Montcalm and Ionia counties in DNR’s Wildlife Division.

Surveillance for the disease is ongoing, and DNR added a new nine-township Core CWD Area in Montcalm and Kent counties in late 2017.

Also, the confirmation of CWD in a free-ranging deer from Montcalm County last September led to the mandatory testing of heads for all deer harvested by hunters within 72 hours and within 5 miles of the core area.

“We continue to test deer from portions of Montcalm and Ionia counties that were harvested during the special January deer season,”  Niewoonder said. “There are at least 34 deer from Montcalm County that are either confirmed or suspected CWD-positive from this past deer season.”

So far, the source of the disease is unknown, and there is no treatment for CWD-positive deer.

The biggest challenge for treatment is that “there’s so much about the disease we don’t know,” said Dan Eichinger, the executive director of Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

“Since you can only test CWD once a deer is dead, with more deer samples from hunters, we’ll have a much better understanding of the extent of the disease, what direction the disease might be travelling in,” Eichinger said. “And that will help inform what the overall management is to be.”

In the past three years, the state spent more than $1 million annually on CWD testing, according to Stewart.

“The level of detail and the amount of effort that we are putting forward is certainly enough to detect the area where we are intensively looking, but that same level of effort probably can’t be applied to everywhere in the state,” Stewart said.

Niewoonder said surveillance is far from complete for the entire state.

“There are many counties that have not been sufficiently sampled to identify whether the disease is present or not. Since the disease likely occurs at very low levels, it is difficult to detect unless many deer are sampled,” he said.

The state has 75 deer check stations, Stewart said, including several new ones in Montcalm and Mecosta counties.

The workload for DNR staff is determined by various factors, such as deer densities in an area, as well as the geographic range where DNR wants to identify the disease. Additional staff was brought into the testing lab in the past hunting season, according to Stewart.

Though the current testing method is “highly effective,” it is still impossible to identify every CWD-positive deer, said Stewart. “People can’t look at a deer and say it has CWD.  Otherwise they would be very easy to target and remove those animals from the landscape.”

Niewoonder said there is no reliable live animal test for CWD, so tests are conducted on dead deer. “The difficulty lies in getting enough samples to detect a disease that exists at very low levels in the deer herd.”

Most of the test samples come from hunters, mostly from October through December.

“That’s when most of our samples are submitted and that’s when most of the identifications of any positive animals come to be,” said Stewart. But in certain surveillance areas, DNR also collects roadkill for testing.

As for deer raised on privately owned farms, testing is done when animals die. Samples must be submitted for testing within one month of death.

“Samples from deer farms in Michigan are sent to the laboratory for testing nearly every week,” said James Averill, the state veterinarian and director of the Animal Industry Division in the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Survey: dune supporters include stormwatchers, ecologists, campers, economists

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — It’s not just their beauty that people love about dunes. Some value Michigan’s sandy knolls for storm-watching.

“It was a really popular activity that we didn’t have on our radar,” said Brad Garmon, director of conservation at the Michigan Environmental Council. “Some parks, specifically in Southwest Michigan, had a pretty high percentage of people rank storm-watching as the primary purpose of their visit to the dunes.”

Those storm clouds and lightning bolts are among many reasons why Michigan’s residents value the state’s dunes, a new survey is telling researchers.

“About 93 percent of people that took the survey valued dunes for their scenic value,” Garmon said. “I think that’s not surprising if you think about Sleeping Bear and some of these high-profile dunes, but that’s still a really high number.”

As one of the first of its kind, the online “How You Dune” survey administered by Michigan State University  pinpointed where and how people spend time when they visit dunes. Popular uses included beach-going and camping.

More than 89 percent of the respondents valued protection of dunes, while 80 percent valued them as a unique ecosystem.

“The idea of generational importance that ‘the dunes I enjoy today I want my kids and grandkids to have the opportunity to have and see and experience these dunes too,’ was really significant,” Garmon said.

Found mostly on the state’s west coast, the 275,000 acres of Michigan dunes comprise the world’s largest freshwater dune system. They house an ecosystem of animals and vegetation distinct to the region.

Many of these organisms rely on how the dunes migrate, a nuisance to many homeowners.

“From a coastal homeowner’s perspective, you’re always trying to keep the dunes in place,” said Shaun Howard, a Nature Conservancy project manager. “You’ve got your home and you’re worried about erosion. But they are dynamic and they are supposed to move.

“Dunes are really important as a component of the ecosystem food-chain because they have these really specific plants which have really specific insects that feed on them which in turn feed birds and other wildlife,” Howard said.

Some species, like the federally endangered Pitcher’s thistle, indicate the health of the dunes.

The plant needs the dunes to scour its seeds so they can continue to reproduce, Howard said. “Without the sand movement, you don’t get that scouring effect, and in return you get reduced germination rates of that particular plant. So we use Pitcher’s thistle success and growth as an indicator for whether the dunes are healthy.”

Coupled with understanding how individuals use dunes, researchers also sought how to galvanize dune supporters.

“We wanted to catalyze a group of dune stakeholders,” said Robert Richardson, an ecological economist with Michigan State who helped develop the survey that 3,610 people answered. “So given that we don’t know who cares about dunes, people who took the survey were invited to give us their contact information so that we could follow up. So now we can build upon this dune stakeholder community.”

Survey respondents were fairly homogeneous, Richardson said. About 87 percent are white.

“We feel like that’s also an opportunity for the Department of Natural Resources to do some targeted outreach to reach more diverse communities who may not have visited dunes or who may not be aware of the uniqueness of dunes,” Richardson said.

To reach minorities, there needs to be a reframing of the discussion about promoting the environment, said Sandra Turner-Handy, the community engagement director for the Michigan Environmental Council.

It’s not that people of color don’t enjoy nature, because they do, she said. The priorities for many people of color in the environment are about survival.

“We are long-term lovers of nature. But when we have our hands in the dirt or we’re fishing or hunting, we’re supplying our food system,” she said. “Reframing how we can enjoy the environment is happening and it will take a while. But we have to invite more people of color into the conversation about the environment so we can begin to understand how it plays a natural role in our everyday lives.”

It’s not easy to calculate the economic value of dunes. Park officials say Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore brought in 1.68 million people in 2016 who spent $183 million in nearby communities. Silver Lake Sand Dunes officials say that state park generates about $2 million a year from the 1 million people who visit. Arcadia dunes near Traverse City collects close to $1.45 million a year in direct economic impact, according to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy.

Howard said, “They offer Michigan a unique opportunity to develop an ecotourism economy. We know people traveling from all over the country and all around the world come to see these dunes.”

As dynamic as they are, dunes are also sensitive to outside influences. When people pick them as a tourist spot, it can harm them.

“In a large dune area, there are places where people run wild,” said David Foote, the director of stewardship for the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. “It denudes the face of the dune, moving vegetation from an entire system.”

As a solution, the conservancy uses a tactic called controlled trampling. That makes it more inconvenient for individuals to walk on dunes by making the trails between them and parking lots longer. Fewer people walking on the dunes loosens up the sand, without destabilizing the mound.

“If you have just a trickle of people, it can free up sand that will be blown up the dune on the backside,” Foote said. “That way rare plants like Pitcher’s thistle can thrive. It’s sustainable in the long run and a way we handle public use on some of the larger properties.”

Dog sleddding is big again in snowy Michigan

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Winter is going to the dogs in Michigan. And that’s not a bad thing.

Mushers around the state that offer dog sledding, for a couple of hours or a couple of days, report increasing business. At many places, guests can ride in the sled or drive it.

Several dog sled operators say visitors come from all over the world to mush through Michigan.

“We’ve expanded again this year,” said Tasha Stielstra, who with her husband, Ed, owns Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Racing & Adventures in McMillan, about 15 miles west of Newberry in the Upper Peninsula.

The couple started raising dogs for dog sledding 20 years ago. About five years later they began offering sled rides to visitors, she said.

Nature’s Kennel offers half-day, full-day and overnight trips. A half-day ride is $100 per person or $250 for a sled, she said. It costs more if you want to learn to drive your own team.

“Any passengers ride with one of our guides,” Tasha Stielstra said. Visitors who want to drive their own team don’t take passengers along, she said.

Some visitors stay overnight at Nature’s Kennel’s “Musher’s Village,” which has a yurt, cabin, cook shack and sauna, she said.

The business has 140 dogs available for winter tours and another 40 for competitive dog sled racing, she said.

All dogs on the tours have raced or will race in the future, she said.

“We’re growing a lot. We’re booked or nearly booked for the year,” Stielstra said. Visitors come from all over the Midwest, and she recently booked a couple from Australia.

Dog sled rides are available from mid-December until the end of March.

Jackie and Jim Winkowski, owners of Snowy Plains Kennel in Gwinn, a few miles south of Marquette, became involved in dog sled racing more than 20 years ago. Within a year or so, they began offering sled rides to others.

“Really quickly, it became fun to share it with other people,” Jackie Winkowski said.

They turned the rides into a business about seven or eight years ago but opted to keep the operation small, she said. They have about a dozen dogs and typically can accommodate groups of one to four people at a time.

“We’re about as busy as we want to be,” Jackie Winkowski said.

Most rides at Snowy Plains are one to six miles long. A 6-mile ride for one person is $120, while shorter rides for a family of four total $160.

She has had visitors from as far away as South America, she said.

“It keeps everything new to see other people experience it for the first time,” she said. People come from across the nation to do this.

Treetops Resort offers dog sled rides along trails on its Masterpiece golf course on designated weekends, said Kevin McKinley, director of golf and ski operations at the resort, a few miles east of downtown Gaylord.

The resort began offering the dog sled rides six years ago, and the rides have become increasingly popular, McKinley said.

“If people have an inkling they want to do it, they should make reservations in advance,” he said. Reservations are available online or by phone. A 2-mile ride is $50 for one rider or $70 for two..

“It’s really a cool experience,” McKinley said of his own ride on a dog sled. “What surprised me is the power of the dogs. The power is just unbelievable.”

Kim Darst, owner of Husky Haven Kennels, has offered sled dog experiences for the past four years in Shingleton, a few miles east of Munising.

She offers half-day trips, mornings and afternoons, along a 10-mile course. Husky Haven has 43 dogs and five sleds.

“We get a lot of families,” Darst said. “That’s normally what we do.”

For $125 per adult, visitors can ride in a sled or drive one, Darst said.

Shemhadar Kennels, about 10 miles west of Cadillac, has seen a big jump in dog sled rides in the past few years, said Gina Dewey, who owns the business with her husband, Tim.

“We get people from all over the world — China, Germany, Japan,” Gina Dewey said.

Shemhadar takes one adult at a time on a 3- or 4-mile ride. That person can ride or can drive the team with help from someone at the kennel, she said. The cost is $150 for one person, she said. A second rider is $50 additional.

Gina Dewey said they take part in dog sled races all over Michigan, and the snow can be spotty.

“We probably haven’t had a good racing year in three years,” she said.

But she predicted the snowier weather would return this year.

“I think it’ll swing back around,” she said.

At most dog sled operations in Michigan, visitors meet the dogs, learn how sled teams operate and maybe warm up with some hot chocolate.

People interested in dog sledding but prefer to keep their feet on the ground might want to check out the sport of dog sled racing.

Three races will start from the Marquette area in mid-February:

  • The 230-mile UP200 dog sled race kicks off Feb. 16 in Marquette.

“It is one of the top 12-dog, mid-distance races in the Midwest, as well as being an Iditarod qualifier,” according to the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association.

The annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska, which is run in March, is about 1,000 miles long.

  • In Marquette, the 90-mile Midnight Run also will start Feb. 16, according to the U.P. association’s website.
  • The 26-mile Jack Pine 30 race will begin Feb. 17 in Gwinn.

“We’re seeing a resurgence in interest” in dog sledding, said Anna Dravland, director of community relations and event marketing at Travel Marquette, which is part of the Marquette County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Dravland said 8,000 to 10,000 visitors typically show up to watch the sled dog teams race.

“It’s the most amazing experience watching them go,” she said.

Bill would let some counties veto state land purchases

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Counties with lots of public land are looking to take some control over state land purchases.

A pending bill would grant local governments more power when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) buys land, while also making sure the state pays its tax bill on time.

The proposed change is in response to the local governments that are upset the state has too much control over northern Michigan land, said Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, a cosponsor of the bill.

“I always hear the reason the state wants to own the land is so you and I can enjoy the land,” he said. “Yet in my area, far too often, land was gated up or fenced off and access was cut off.”

Critics say the bill restricts statewide land management decisions.

Casperson worries it’s too difficult for people to buy land from the state. The Michigan Association of Counties, which supports the bill, wants counties to be able to veto state purchases. And groups like the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance take issue with how the DNR allocates land.

“If conservation is the wise use of resources that benefits the most people for the longest time, then that’s not what is happening,” said Dale McNamee, the former president of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Parts of the bill guarantee sportsmen they will have land where to hunt.”

McNamee says the DNR often doesn’t take advantage of public land by prohibiting mining, fishing and hunting. The alliance promotes recreational experiences and encourages conservation of natural resources in the area, he said.

Under the bill, counties with more than 40 percent of their land owned by the state would have approval power over any additional state land purchase in their county. As of 2016, six counties fit that description: Cheboygan, Crawford, Dickinson, Kalkaska, Luce and Roscommon. Of the almost 4.6 million acres the DNR owns, 85 percent is north of the Mason-Arenac line, an invisible line that stretches across counties north of the Thumb.  

The Michigan Environmental Council opposes several parts of the bill.

“Our issue with that is these are statewide land management decisions that are supported by a lot of people,” said Sean Hammond, the council’s deputy policy director. “This would allow a single county to hold up a statewide land management decision. We think that’s not the appropriate way to make these decisions.”

The council disagrees with restricting the DNR’s purchasing power if the state isn’t current on payments it makes in lieu of taxes. When the state buys land, not only is the county getting money for the initial purchase, but to offset the property taxes it isn’t receiving, the state pays what are called Payments In Lieu of Taxes or PILT.

If the state fell behind on these payments, the bill would allow a cap on how much land the DNR could purchase would go into effect. The council disagrees with this because, while the DNR purchases land, the payments are appropriated by the Legislature, not the department itself.

“We’re questioning why we need to tie those together when they are completely separate entities,” Hammond said.

While payments have been late in the past, the DNR says the state doesn’t usually miss PILT payments.

Both the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club and the Michigan United Conservation Clubs oppose the bill.

Sponsors hope to improve local business opportunities impeded by public land ownership, Casperson said. In 2014, Oswald’s Bear Ranch, a big money-maker for Luce County, was looking to purchase land held by the DNR.

Instead, the business had to buy 160 acres the state wanted, then swap it for the land it preferred, which took years, Casperson said. More than half the county is owned by the state.

“When we can’t even help little businesses like this and there is so much economic turmoil in the region, it’s really unfortunate,” Casperson said. “There may be benefits to the state owning public land, but not through the local economy.”

That’s where the environmental council sees it differently.

The philosophy behind these bills is the state has too much public land and that doesn’t help the economy, Hammond said.

“Well, we see it the other way. We see tourism and recreation growing at huge rates. Trail running, mountain biking, birding, these are all industries that are growing, and where’s the best place to do them? On the state’s public land.”

The DNR says the  legislationl wouldn’t have much effect on the way it does business, because it  already uses many of the practices the bill mandates.

“We recognize there was justifiable concern that the DNR was making decisions about local land ownership without fully considering the interests or needs of local government officials,” said Ed Golder, the DNR’s public information officer. “So we’ve changed that engagement model.”

When a new land strategy was developed in 2013, DNR director Keith Creagh met with many northern county officials to gauge how they felt about how the government uses public land.

Since then, it’s become standard practice to seek approval from local governments and to seek agreement on the footprint of state-managed public land, Golder said.

It’s a practice that officials with the Michigan Association of Counties say they appreciate.

“We support the bill and we support the DNR working with counties,” said Deena Bosworth, the director of governmental affairs at the association.  “This bill codifies the relationship they have been working on for years now.”

The bill passed the Senate in mid-October and has been referred to the House Natural Resources Committee.

Snowmobile sales rebound but less snow, fewer riders slow recovery

By CARL STODDARD
Capital News Service

LANSING — Warmer weather and a cool state economy have teamed up to mean fewer snowmobile riders on state trails — and less money in the pockets of those who rely on them.

A snowy winter at the peak of the snowmobile era could pump nearly $1 billion into economy of the state, with its nearly 300,000 registered snowmobiles and thousands of miles of snowmobile trails.

But snow hasn’t always been a sure thing in Michigan’s winter wonderland recently.

And, according to the Secretary of State’s office, registrations have been falling over the past decade.

In October, 283,884 snowmobiles were registered in Michigan, said Laura Lehman, a communications representative for the Secretary of State. That’s down from October 2007, when 390,168 snowmobiles were registered..

A three-year registration costs $30, the Secretary of State says.

Snowmobilers need an annual state-issued trail permit sticker to ride on public roads “where authorized,” and on public lands and trails, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

An annual trail permit is $48. Snowmobile trails i officially open Dec. 1 and close March 31.

During the 2016-17 winter season, about 130,000 trail permit stickers were issued, said Paul Gaberdiel, a trails specialist with the DNR in Newberry. That’s down from about 200,000  issued in the 2006-07 season, Gaberdiel said.

He said he blames the downturn on the cost of snowmobiling, inconsistent temperatures and snow, and the Great Recession of 2007-09, which hit Michigan especially hard.

“It just hasn’t rebounded from there,” Gaberdiel said.

Bill Manson, executive director of the Michigan Snowmobile Association, says snowmobiling depends on disposable income, and there has been less of that since the recession.

But he is optimistic about the future of snowmobiling in Michigan.

“We’ll come back,” said Manson, whose 17,000-member organization is based in the Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming.

In the late 1990s, sales of new snowmobiles in Michigan reached about 20,000 a year, he said. By 2008, sales had plunged to about 3,000 units a year, he said, but rebounded to about 6,000 last year.

“There’s a good feeling among hard-core snowmobilers that this is going to be a good winter,” said Manson, who counts himself among those hard-core riders.

“We’ve stabilized. If we have a good winter, I think we’ll see permits, sales, registrations all go up,” he said.

Back in 2007, before the recession hit, snowmobiling was a $1-billion-a-year industry in the state, he said. These days, the industry has slipped but still contributes about $800 million a year to the state’s economy, he said.

Sales, permits and registrations account for much of that impact. In addition, the average snowmobiler out on  winter trails will spend about $150 a day for gas, food, lodging and other expenses, he said.

State officials don’t break down how much is spent on snowmobiling but do know how much vacationers spend overall in the state in the winter months.

Last winter, leisure travelers in Michigan spent nearly $3.9 billion, out of $15.3 billion for the entire year, said Michelle Grinnell, director of media and public relations for the state’s Economic Development Corp. Travel Michigan program.

At Copper Country Rentals in Calumet, about 10 miles north of Houghton and Hancock, snowmobile rentals have been on the rise, said owner Susan Bushong.

“I see that trend toward renting” and away from buying snowmobiles, Bushong said.

With renting, she said, snowmobilers avoid a lot of expenses, but still “get a new sled every year.”

Bushong, who has 30 snowmobiles available for rent, said it already is snowing in the Upper Peninsula, but she expects business to pick up by late December as the snow starts piling up.

In Michigan, wetter-than-average weather is expected in the coming months, according to the most recent winter outlook released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).That same report said Michigan has an equal chance of being warmer or colder than normal this winter.

Blame the uncertainty on La Niña, which is “potentially emerging for the second year in a row as the biggest wildcard in how this year’s winter will shape up,” NOAA said in its  report. During La Niña, parts of the Pacific Ocean are cooler than normal, affecting the weather in North America.

The 2018 edition of The Old Farmer’s Almanac predicts a warmer than normal winter, with slightly above normal precipitation in most of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the tip of the Lower Peninsula, the almanac says, winter will be warmer than normal, while precipitation and snowfall will be below normal.

The Pure Michigan website says Michigan’s more than 6,500 miles of groomed snowmobiling trails “are one of the most extensive interconnected snowmobile trail systems in the nation, made even better by the state’s abundant and dependable snow.”

About 3,000 miles of the trails are in the remote, rugged and typically snowier Upper Peninsula.

According to the Otsego County Historical Society, the first U. S. patent for a snow machine, the predecessor of the modern snowmobile, was awarded in 1916 to Ray H. Muscott of Waters, which is south of Gaylord.

Legal strings attached to airbow

BY JACK NISSEN
Capital News Service

LANSING — Does Michigan need more ways for disabled people to hunt game like deer, duck and bear? Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain, thinks so.

The Upper Peninsula lawmaker wants to legalize the use of a pneumatic airbow, a crossbow that uses compressed air instead of a string for power.

The idea is to create more hunting experiences for people who cannot pull back the string of a traditional crossbow.

“A lady in my district, who has been an avid deer hunter her whole life and was getting up there in age, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis,” said LaFave, who recently introduced legislation to allow the weapon. “So she can’t crank a crossbow anymore.”

She applied for a permit through the Department of Natural Resources(Department of Natural Resources) to use the weapon. Agency officials declined, citing a need for a change in the law. So she went to LaFave for help.

Folks in southern states like Texas and Louisiana have legalized the use of the airbow, which is a very effective weapon for killing game, LaFave said.

And that’s a problem, according to some critics.

“We do not support this legislation,” said Tony Demboski, the president of the Upper Peninsula Sportmen’s Alliance. “We have so many means of hunting, whether it’s firearms, bows or crossbows, there’s already too much pressure on hunting deer.”

Demboski said he is especially concerned how groups like humane societies might characterize the use of weapons like this.

That’s not the only snag LaFave’s bill has hit.

Months before it was introduced he brought up the option of legalizing airbows to the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) a statewide coalition of outdoor groups based in Lansing. It disapproved of classifying an airbow under the same umbrella as a cros bow.

“It’s more of a pneumatic gun than archery equipment,” said Dan Eichinger, its executive director. “It has everything do with the mechanics behind it. With archery equipment, you’re drawing a string back. This thing is so powerful, it’s more like a firearm.”

It shoots arrows, so it should be defined as a bow-hunting tool, LaFave said. But because the MUCC doesn’t agree, only disabled hunters could use an airbow during bow-hunting season. Anyone else could hunt with one only during firearm season.

What all parties agree on is the that the aging population of hunters needs to be accommodated with special  weapons and programs.

“There’s been more growth in the last 10 years than in the prior 30 years expanding these programs,” Eichinger said. “People are living longer and there just isn’t as much interest in younger people to go hunting.”

Accommodations are made for many kinds of disabilities, from lung and cardiovascular problems to mobility issues.

That’s another reason Demboski doesn’t agree with the bill. So many accommodations for disabled hunters are out there, adding more isn’t necessary.

“Michigan already has lots of ways for disabled hunters to continue hunting,” he said. “The U.P. even has one business that has state-of-the-art equipment specifically designed for assisting disabled hunters.”

He’s talking about Wheelin’ Sportsmen, based in Escanaba. In 2007, Ken Buchholtz got the idea to build trailers to accommodate hunters with mobility problems. Since then it’s become nationally recognized.

The trailers are outfitted for wheelchairs and have TV screens that act as scopes and rifles that accommodate many physical handicaps.

People are living longer, but with older hunters comes more disabilities, Buchholtz said. “Hunting is a big part of people’s lives, so when that becomes harder to do for them, it can be really sad.”

Buchholtz is also the Upper Peninsula district director for the Accessibility Advisory Council at the DNR, a group that bolsters efforts to keep disabled hunters in the sport.

While LaFave would prefer airbows be available to all hunters during the entire archery season, meeting other groups in the middle for him is where it counts.

“My goal ultimately was to help this individual and others with disabilities,” he said. “If a compromise is what I need to do, a compromise is what I’m going to come up with.”

All those orange traffic barrels can have a second life

By STEPHEN OLSCHANSKI
Capital News Service

LANSING — A Michigan company is recycling orange traffic barrels into an artificial snow surface that could combat fewer snowfalls in the future and is already turning backyards into ski slopes.

The Plainwell-based company called mSnow hasfound a home in at least two Michigan skiing hotspots – Mount Brighton and Crystal Mountain. Mount Brighton will showcase the product at its inaugural Fall Fest Oct. 21-22.

Whether the surface could address ski slope owners’ concerns over climate change is uncertain. Large-scale implementation of the mSnow surfaces has yet to begin and questions remain over its feasibility, said company co-owner, Luke Schrab.

The barrels, damaged by cars and beyond repair, are transformed into tiles and pieced together to make surface areas to practice skiing and snowboarding. They are used primarily by kids to practice in their backyards, but have begun to attract nationwide attention.

The average backyard setup costs between $200 and $300, Schrab said. To build a setup down a hill would cost a substantial amount. Also the surface isn’t for beginners or intermediate skiers. Larger slopes made of the surface become a bigger safety risk.

Simple falls on the surface can cause scrapes, he said. An entire slope of the surface would require more protection

“Even though a lot of areas are not installing it to be able to ski down a slope, there are little ways they use it,” Schrab said. One is mSnow’s development of tubing lanes to allow inflatable tubes to slide down slopes in the summer. Places that have instituted tubing lanes in the past include Breckenridge in Colorado and Brian Head in Utah.

Climate change could increase the demand for artificial surfaces.

But artificial surfaces are not an option in the foreseeable future as a replacement for snow as the ski industry is still alive, said Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association.

Ski areas across the country have installed artificial surfaces for summer training and on a small scale at resorts but they’re not needed to replace a full slope, Berry said. “It’s not all doom and gloom in the industry.”

But large scale artificial surfaces could be useful because they don’t need much snow, Berry said.

The popularity of artificial surfaces has risen as a way to train and to combat less snow, he said.

Orange barrels are manufactured by private companies that rent them to construction companies with state  contracts. Instead of heading to the landfill, damaged barrels are bought by or given to mSnow by the companies that rent them to construction companies, Schrab said.

The barrels are cleaned, molded into tile pieces and an additive is applied to make them slippery, Schrab said.

Schrab and his brother competed across the Midwest in skiing competitions. To compete in inverted aerial events they had to train in the summer. After skiing on an artificial surface in Park City, Utah, they thought about developing their own surfaces.

“Those traffic barrels are a similar plastic to what gets used for ski surfaces,” Schrab said. “Normally, it is a polyethylene. There are other types, but that’s what the barrels are made of.”

Kids who crafted backyard practice setups from mSnow made them popular, Schrab said. Word of mouth at ski resort and trade shows prompted Mount Brighton and Crystal Mountain to pick them up.

Caberfae Peaks Ski and Golf Resort near Cadillac has implemented mSnow surfaces into its resort for liftoffs but has put more money into man-made snow operations, Caberfae general manager Pete Meyer said.

Decline in boat registrations creating a lack of funding for marine patrols

By KALEY FECH
Capital News Service

LANSING — Over the past decade, state funding for the marine divisions of sheriffs’ offices in Michigan has dwindled with the decline in the number of registered boats.

At the same time, the number of unregistered canoes and kayaks has increased, leading to calls for the owners of those craft to also be required to pay the registration fees that support rescues and other boating programs

“We’ve experienced a dramatic decrease in funding,” said Mackinac County Sheriff Scott Strait. “It’s roughly one-third of what it was 10 years ago.”  

Marine divisions offer boater safety classes, patrol waterways and conduct search-and- rescue missions on the water, including areas of the Great Lakes.

The  Department of Natural Resources (DNR) offers Marine Safety grants to county sheriff departments for marine patrol divisions. The grant money comes from boat registration fees.

However, a decline in registered boats has led to a decrease in the grant money vailable, and sheriffs’ offices across the state are feeling the effects, said Blaine Koops, executive director of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association.

In 2007, there were 827,869 registered boats in Michigan. By 2012, there were only 800,793. Last year that number dropped to 790,425, according to the DNR.

The amount available for Marine Safety grants is decreasing with the decline in registered boats. In 2007, it  was about $3.5 million. In 2012, it fell to about $2.8 million.  In 2016, it was about $2.2 million, according to the DNR.

“Funding here is roughly half of what it was when I first started,” said Sgt. Eric Decker, from the Marquette County special operations division. “Ten to 15 years ago, grant money was somewhere between $30,000 and $35,000. It’s now down to between $17,000 and $20,000.”

In the past, the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office used funds from the DNR grant to purchase new equipment, but he said the lack of funding is now forcing the county to make some tough decisions.

“We haven’t been able to replace equipment,” Decker said. “We have an aging boat, but we haven’t been able to replace it because grant money has gone down. It’s now looking like the county will purchase the boat and will put off getting a new patrol car for another year.”

An increasing problem counties are seeing is the number of calls they receive from canoers and kayakers in distress.

“We’re seeing major issues with kayaks,” said Kelly Hanson, the Huron County dheriff. “We’ve been called out over 70 times this year for kayak rescues.”

In Michigan, canoes and kayaks do not have to be registered. When users call for help, they are using marine division resources without contributing to the funding, Strait said.

Strait said his office is receiving a growing number of calls from kayakers, especially in the Straits of Mackinac. Deckersaid Marquette County is also getting more calls involving kayakers in trouble.

All three sheriffs say that  requiring canoes and kayaks to be registered would improve the funding situation.

They’re not alone.

“This is something we’ve wanted to see happen for years,” said Mark Miltner, vice president of Michigan Association of Paddlesport Providers and owner of Pine River Paddlesports Center in Wellston, about halfway between Manistee and Cadillac.

“The number of people who own personal crafts is increasing, and they’re not always experienced,” he said. “Sheriff marine divisions are getting called out more and more to do search and rescues.”

Decker said the drop in funding  means fewer deputies on the water.

It’s a concern that Hanson shares.

“At one time we had a marine patrol seven days a week,” he said. “Now we just have a weekend patrol.”