MBHA to focus on harvest, WI houndsmen training in MI, and earlier baiting at 2017 Bear Forum

MBHA to focus on harvest, WI houndsmen training in MI, and earlier baiting at 2017 Bear Forum

By Victor Skinner

  1. IGNACE – Bear hunters, farmers, the U.S. Forest Service and others who make up the Michigan Bear Forum will meet in St. Ignace in December to discuss the 2017 harvest, an upcoming update to the Michigan Bear Management Plan, and a variety of other issues and research.

The 2017 meeting will take place on an off cycle year for bear regulations. Department of Natural Resources officials plan to discuss 2017 harvest statistics, an overview of long-term harvest data, population estimates, research and season updates, as well as trend indicators for each bear management unit, said Kevin Swanson, DNR bear specialist.

Swanson said the DNR converted to an electronic reporting system for bears in 2017, which caused some complications, but he plans to present the data from the harvest at the forum.

“I’m hoping we’ll have a better preliminary harvest and the trends we’re seeing by BMU,” he said. “The review of harvest stats will be a main part of the meeting.”

Swanson said the DNR will also solicit input on updating the state’s Bear Management Plan, last reviewed in 2008, with new data from bear research, statistics on human-bear conflicts, and other information. DNR officials will also look at strategic guidance in the plan aimed at minimizing conflicts while maximizing benefits.

The Bear Management Plan also covers the make-up of BMUs, season starts, public outreach to increase social tolerance and other issues, Swanson said.

“There will be a lot of things thrown around,” he said.

The Bear Forum is also expected to hear from a new Michigan Commercial Beekeepers Association, formed this summer over concerns about bear damage to bee hives across northern Michigan, a problem the group alleges is getting worse each year.

“I’ve invited the Michigan Commercial Beekeepers to be part of the forum,” Swanson said. “I’m hoping they’ll participate.”

Michigan Bear Hunters Association President Tim Dusterwinkle noted that “no regulations are going to be decided at this meeting, but there’s some issues and topics we’re going to tackle.”

The MBHA’s overarching goal, he said, is to unite the members of the Bear Forum behind maintaining a healthy bear population.

“We really believe that the tag cuts that were put in place in 2012 are bearing fruit,” Dusterwinkle said. “I really believe we’re seeing a rebound in the population and my focus is going to be to work for unanimity again about how we want to see a healthy, vibrant population.

“My focus is maintaining what we have and in some areas increasing bear numbers,” he said.

Other important topics include license transfers, Wisconsin residents during the training season, and earlier baiting, Dusterwinkle said.

“We want to make the transfer of tags easier, to transfer to youth,” he said. “The DNR is going to look into streamlining the process.”

The MBHA would also “like to see the training season opened up to residents of Wisconsin,” he said. “We can train dogs in Wisconsin in the summer, but they can’t come here.”

Dusterwinkle said the MBHA would prefer to start baiting at the start of the training season, like in Wisconsin, and he plans to offer a compromise to DNR officials who have resisted the idea over concerns about the risk of increased wolf-dog conflicts.

“I really want the start of baiting season to open when dog training season opens,” he said. “I really think that will help with nuisance complaints, too.”

“I’d love to see it statewide, but the reason the (DNR) won’t allow it is because of wolf-dog conflicts,” Dusterwinkle said. Instead, the MBHA will advocate for opening baiting for the training season in the Lower Peninsula only, where there are no wolves.

“The majority of the nuisance complaints are in the northern lower anyway,” he said.

Joe Hudson, president of the U.P. Bear Houndsmen, will also focus on growing the bear population and opposing future license increases, as well as earlier baiting, he said.

“Every year they talk about nuisance bears,” Hudson said. “I know for a fact if we could bait the bears earlier, there would be less complaints.”

Hudson believes the current Michigan Bear Management Plan is well researched and comprehensive, and doesn’t think it needs any major changes.

“If they went by that bear management plan, we wouldn’t have any problems,” he said. “That plan is a good plan. We worked hard on it, all the groups.”

Dusterwinkle agrees.

“I think the last five years I’ve been really happy with the way the department has responded to our concerns. We’re riding the scientific management horse and I think that’s what we need to do,” he said. “Overall, I’m satisfied with the plan the way it is, too.”

Michigan United Conservation Clubs Deputy Director Amy Trotter said she’ll attend the Dec. 16 forum to see “how the season went, and the preliminary harvest numbers.” MUCC is also interested in any law enforcement issues related to a ban on chocolate in bear bait that went into effect this year.

“I’d like to know if there’s been any law enforcement action …,” Trotter said. “The other thing is the newest policy resolution on bear hunting that was approved at our convention, and that’s using bait barrels on public lands.”

“Last year we opposed it, now we support it with carefully crafted legislation,” she said. “I don’t know the opinions of the other stakeholders on that.”

Trotter said the potential for bait barrels to help minimize wolf-dog conflicts near bait sites was a major driver for MUCC’s support.

“The reason it was adopted at the convention … is a wolf deterrent, to reduce wolf habituation to bait sites. It was actually a recommendation to the (DNR’s) Wolf Roundtable,” she said.

MUCC wants to explore whether “we can strengthen a regulation that reduces some of the concerns from (the DNR) law enforcement division and forestry division,” Trotter said, though she acknowledged that previous discussions proved the issue is somewhat divisive.

“I think people are tired of the issue after the controversy last year,” she said. “Really it’s a wolf deterrent … I don’t know if that changes things. It’s a different discussion with a different head count.”

DNR law enforcement officials have expressed concerns in the past about hunters leaving the barrels behind, identifying who they belong to, and ensuring they’re complying with the law.

The metal barrels would use small holes to allow bears to shake food out, while preventing wolves from accessing the bait.

Dusterwinkle said the MBHA initially backed the idea, but has since tabled the issue after receiving feedback from members both for and against.

“It’s a divisive issue and I was taken aback by the resistance,” he said. “We don’t really have a position on the barrels currently.”