Deer population fluctuates across state, study finds

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Capital News Service
LANSING – Finding that prize-winning buck may be more difficult in some parts of the state this hunting season, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE).

White-tailed deer (credit: Michigan State University).

That’s because deer numbers are mostly below the ideal level in the Upper Peninsula, at or below the target in the northwestern Lower Peninsula and above the state goal for most of the southern Lower Peninsula, according to a new report.
U.P and northern Lower Peninsula deer numbers have been down in recent years because of harsh winters. But the 2009-10 winter was mild and spring came early, helping numbers rebound, said Brent Rudolph, deer and elk program leader for DNRE’s Rose Lake Wildlife Research Station in East Lansing.
The southern Lower Peninsula has an abundant herd, with more deer in many places than the DNRE wants, said Rudolph, who wrote the report.
“There are not too many problems with deer making it through the winter” in southern Michigan, Rudolph said because of better habitat and food availability during the spring and summer.
Winters are not as tough as they are in the north, he noted.
Northern Michigan has more forested land and sandy soil, which is not a productive environment for the plants that deer need for food, Rudolph said.
The 2010 archery season opened Oct. 1 and lasts until Nov. 14. The firearm season is open from Nov. 15 to Nov. 30. Then archery resumes from Dec. 1 to Jan. 1, 2011.
Differences in deer populations affect how many antlerless permits are issued for each region, Rudolph said. Fewer antlerless permits, or doe permits, are to be issued for the U.P. and northern Lower Peninsula this season because there is less need to reduce populations there.
Antlerless permits are available in Crystal Falls, Menominee, Norway, Gladstone and Drummond Island in the U.P. None are available in Cheboygan, Otsego, and Kalkaska counties.
Assuming another mild winter, the increase in fawns could mean more antlered deer next season, Rudolph said.
One challenge is convincing hunters to take does instead of bucks to control the size of the herds, Rudolph said. Larger herds cause problems, especially for motor vehicles.
However, Rudolph said he sees growing acceptance among hunters about taking does. More does than bucks were taken statewide last year.
Anne Readette, communications manager for the Office of Highway Safety Planning, said, deer-related crashes tend to happen on two-lane, 55 mph roads at dawn and dusk, mostly in the fall.
According to last year’s crash statistics, 43 percent occurred between October and December. Also, 10 people died in such crashes last year. Eight were motorcycle operators and two were motorcycle passengers, the agency reported.
Vehicle-deer collision occurred most often in the southern Lower Peninsula, with Kent County having the highest number last year with 2,164, the report stated. Statewide, there were 61,486 deer-related crashes last year.
Oakland County had the second-highest number with 1,947 crashes, followed by Jackson County, 1,877, Calhoun County, 1,659 and Montcalm County, 1,641.
Readette said drivers should be extra-alert at this time of year and slow down, especially at dawn and dusk. The agency says drivers who spot one deer should proceed with caution as there are likely to be more nearby.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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