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Issues Of The Environment: Exploring The Management Of Michigan’s Deer Population

Dec 25, 2019

White-tailed deer
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons / wikipedia.org

Michigan's deer population has exploded in recent years, mostly to due to fewer hunters.  Yet, this population surge can lead to other problems for our ecosystem.  In this week's "Issues of the Environment," WEMU's David Fair talks to Randy Baker, who owns the nature tour program Naturalist Endeavors, about the best ways to manage the state's growing number of deer.


Overview

  • Hunting is on a steep decline in Michigan and has been since the late 1990’s.  The number of registered hunters in Washtenaw County has fallen by 20-30%. 
  • According to a demographic analysis conducted by Michigan Technological University, those remaining hunters are graying, with most in their late 40s to late 60s.  By 2035, projections are that the late-'90s rate will be cut by more than half.  Younger generations are generally disinterested in hunting for a number of reasons, and they are not replacing the baby boomers as they leave the woods.
  • Meanwhile, the white-tailed deer population has been steadily increasing, leading to concerns about overpopulation.  MDNR estimates put the Michigan deer population around 1.75 million for 2019.  Too many deer leads to outbreaks of Chronic Wasting Disease, Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease (EHD), Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) (of concern in 2019), and Bovine TB.  Many deer also starve to death during the winter when numbers are too high.  Coyotes, perhaps the only natural predator of deer in southeast Michigan, have made a comeback, but there numbers are not substantial enough to keep deer populations in check.
  • Too many deer also leads to overbrowsing, which numerous studies have shown to be a huge factor in the destruction of natural areas and loss of habitat for other species.  More deer also increases the prevalence of Lyme disease and other tick and mosquito-borne illnesses in humans.
  • In the past 40 years, the number of deer living in the northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula has actually declined, as open and edge habitats preferred by deer grow into forests.  In southern Michigan, the population has exploded, increasing nearly 500%, from 200,000 to a million deer.  (Deer were historically abundant in Michigan, but no one knows for sure what the population numbers were before European settlers arrived.  By 1870, most of the deer in the south were gone from over hunting and habitat destruction.  Deer management began in 1895 with a license requirement and bag limit.  Deer populations rebounded quickly from 45,000 deer in 1914, to nearly 1.5 million by 1949.) 
  • Loss of hunting revenue could have a devastating effect on conservation in Michigan.  According to the Detroit Free Press, “license fees and surcharges on hunting and fishing gear purchases fund most of the wildlife management and habitat preservation and restoration work done by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.  And hunting contributes $2.3 billion annually to Michigan's economy and supports more than 34,000 jobs, according to the DNR.”
  • Randy Baker, Owner and Chief Naturalist for Naturalist Endeavors: Randy is a professional, university-trained biologist and naturalist.  In addition to 12 years of university training, he also has experience as a classroom teacher, an author of scientific articles, and as a professional wildlife guide.  Randy has been providing programs for schools and other organizations for over 20 years.
  • For more details on Naturalist Endeavors, check out its website.

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 David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu