All Nature Conservancy preserves in Michigan are threatened in some way by deer, either through over-browsing or the transmission of disease to other species (i.e., moose) that are conservation targets. Managing white-tailed deer populations through hunting is an important step in reducing deer damage and protecting the biodiversity of our preserves. At some of our preserves, deer populations have grown well beyond the ability of the natural communities to withstand their effects. For this reason, we employ hunting as a tool to reduce populations in order to reduce the damage deer cause, allowing natural communities to recover their full vigor and diversity.
Unnaturally High Deer Population
White-tailed deer are native to Michigan, but over the last six decades their population has grown to levels that are much higher than any prior period. Regional deer densities in Michigan have changed a great deal since the 1970s. Statewide deer population estimates indicate that the population grew steadily between the 1970s and early 1990s with a gradual long-term declining trend since 1995. It is important to note that population trends are not consistent across the state, with stronger declines in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula and increases in the southern Lower Peninsula.1
Threat to Ecological Systems
Natural ecosystems are not adapted to these high population levels and are being degraded through over-browsing of the shrub and ground cover layers. Some shrubs, such as the Canada yew, are in severe decline throughout most of the state due to this browsing pressure. Several tree species (such as northern white-cedar, sugar maple, eastern hemlock, and several oaks) that are preferred as browse are failing to regenerate where deer numbers are high, and if the pressure continues the composition of Michigan’s forests will be changed, perhaps irreversibly.
Deer also prefer some herbaceous plants over others, and the decline or disappearance of some species has been attributed to deer browsing activity. These changes in vegetation that result from deer browsing have been shown to affect birds. In heavily browsed areas, the shrub layer is virtually absent or is populated almost entirely by species (such as balsam fir or leatherwood) that deer tend not to eat. Animals that nest or forage in the shrub layer are not, in some cases, able to adapt to such dramatic changes in forest structure and must find suitable habitat elsewhere or persist at low numbers.
Deer also carry brain worm, a parasite that does not seriously harm deer but that is fatal to moose. Moose cannot survive in areas that have even moderately high deer populations and are limited to areas where deep winter snow keeps the deer population low, such as in the Lake Superior watershed where annual snowfall may average more than 200 inches. Deer thus affect the composition of the faunal and floral communities in ecological systems throughout Michigan and have put some species and ecological systems at risk.
Hunting Can Help to Abate the Threats
The Conservancy owns 49,840 acres in Michigan, scattered across 32 preserves.2 Hunting deer on Conservancy preserves will have an undetectable effect on the deer population that is spread over roughly 36,000,000 acres in the state. Managing the statewide deer population to levels within the carrying capacity of the ecological systems of the state is a challenge that requires strategies far broader than hunting on Conservancy preserves.
However, if the Conservancy is to achieve conservation of the ecological systems and species that occur on our preserves, then hunting is a valuable strategy. First, harvesting deer effectively on our preserves can reduce browse pressure directly through a short-term reduction in the local deer population. Second, hunting deer on preserves where moose are a conservation target can help to keep the deer population at a low level so that moose are not as likely to contract brain worm. Third, allowing hunting on our preserves helps to ensure that the preserves do not become “refuges” for deer during the hunting season. Deer learn to avoid areas where hunting pressure is high and move into areas that are not hunted as heavily. If we choose not to harvest deer from preserves in areas with high deer density, we are probably helping to exacerbate the negative effects of deer browsing in the very areas we are seeking to conserve. Once hunting is established, deer may learn to avoid the preserve and adopt movement patterns that lessen browsing pressure in the preserve. Thus, hunting deer on our preserves is a strategy that can reduce threats related to over-browsing and disease transmission.
1Information provided by Michigan State University department of Fisheries and Wildlife
2Figures as of 12/31/2014
Hunting by Permit Only on Conservancy Preserves
You must have a Permit from the Conservancy to hunt at any of the available preserves listed below. Permits are renewed annually if the hunter has complied with the Rules of the Program (listed below). Hunters not in compliance are replaced with interested hunters from the Waiting List in the order that they were added. There is no fee to hunt at Conservancy preserves.
In the Lower Peninsula, we currently allow hunting on seven preserves. Most Lower Peninsula preserves are currently at capacity; however, we do maintain a waiting list for each preserve.
In the Upper Peninsula, we have fewer capacity issues and currently allow hunting at ten preserves. Permits are offered to the hunters from the previous year, but spots are available on a first come, first serve basis where openings are available.
Please refer to the table below for a breakdown of which sites have permits available. The deadline for obtaining a 2015 Hunting Permit has passed. If you are interested in hunting white-tailed deer on Conservancy preserves in 2016, please contact Sara Leavitt at 517-316-0300 ext. 8 or email@example.com.
|Lower Peninsula||Upper Peninsula|
Grand River Fen (North and South)
Bois Blanc Island Preserve
To obtain a Permit to hunt on Nature Conservancy lands you must agree to the following rules and statements:
- Deer hunting is not permitted on all preserves.
- All hunters must carry a Conservancy-issued Permit while hunting on a preserve.
- Only white-tailed deer may be hunted; no other species may be hunted or trapped; no collection of plants and animals other than deer. The hunter must report how many deer were taken (and gender of deer) upon expiration of the Permit.
- Permits are personal to the hunter and may not be used by or assigned to any other individual.
- Hunters may request a Permit to allow one minor child to accompany the hunter on the Property. The child must be at least 10 years of age and less than 17 years of age, have all license or permits required to hunt under Michigan law, and must have completed a course in hunting safety approved by the MDNR.
- All hunting must be done within designated areas.
- No shooting is allowed across open fields, marshes, or roads. Unnecessary shooting or shooting at targets is prohibited.
- No hunting is allowed within a 200-yard radius of any inhabited dwelling.
- No trapping or snaring is allowed.
- Alcohol is not allowed on Conservancy preserves or in preserve parking lots.
- No fires, smoking, camping, littering (including the use of plastic flagging), or dumping of ashes, trash, garbage, chemical waste or other unsightly or offensive material on Conservancy property.
- No cutting, breaking or clearing of vegetation. Planting of food plots or other vegetation is not allowed.
- Only two (2) temporary, non-damaging deer stands are permitted. No tree spikes, steps, or any implement that will damage trees are allowed. All stands must be removed prior to expiration of this permit. The hunter shall place his/her name and contact information on the stand. Any stands not removed by this date shall become the property of the Conservancy.
- Access to the property must be along the existing road. Parking of vehicles is only allowed in designated parking areas. No off-road vehicle use.
- In addition to the above rules, hunters must comply with all local, state, and federal laws and ordinances governing hunting activities, including obtaining all required government licenses or permits.
The Conservancy reserves the right to full use of the Property and surrounding Preserve. Activities of the Conservancy and its guests take precedence over the hunter’s rights under this Permit.
Updated July 24, 2015