For those that did not happen to see it last Thursday, a video segment of interest was presented on two area television stations. The subject of the story was an Onaway area farmer who has registered complaints about elk-related crop damage.
We do not know who initiated the media event, but in addition to the television crews and farmer in question it was attended by area State legislators, representatives of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Michigan Farm Bureau.
We would like to begin by saying that we remain sympathetic to the financial losses which have been incurred by the agricultural operator in question. The economic challenges facing those who pursue farming in northeast Michigan are many; it has to be especially difficult when crops such as corn are being cultivated on the edge of Michigan’s elk range.
What was concerning about the television segment was the suggestion that more management tools may need to be made available to farmers who find themselves in similar situations. When such discussions have been broached in the past, the topic of landowner “nuisance elk” tags invariably comes up. The model for such ideas has its roots in deer-related crop damage which has a history of both success and abuse.
It should be emphasized that in the course of those interviews the legislators expressed their concerns for both the farmer’s plight but the elk herd, as well. Although such statements should give hunter-conservationists comfort, our concerns emerged from the fact that the media event seemed to put commitments made in the development of the 2012 Elk Management Plan squarely back on the table for reconsideration.
The process of developing the 2012 Elk Management Plan began in 2010 with the formation of an advisory team which convened stakeholders representing a diverse array of public and private interests. Advisory panel members included the Michigan Farm Bureau, Michigan Department of Agriculture, Michigan Department of Transportation, area agricultural producers in addition to representatives of sportsmen and conservation interests.
The final report of the elk advisory team and 2012 Elk Management Plan which was generated as a result of this process included the following unanimously-supported statement: “Lethal removal of elk out-of-season should be an available tool used when the DNR(E) determines no other effective tools are available:(these are) in instances involving visibly disease-affected or severely injured animals, or in urgent situations where problematic elk threatens health, safety of welfare of citizens and/or livestock. This removal is managed and performed by the DNR or their authorized representatives and NOT through the issuance of landowner kill permits.“
It was largely due to the strength of this language that sportsmen and elk herd advocates were willing to accept the final 2012 Elk Management Plan in spite of its proposed potential herd size reduction of nearly 50% and shrinking core management zone. For this reason, any suggestion that there may now be any reneging on this commitment by any of those partner groups would be incredibly disappointing.
Not only would the issuance of private landowner kill permits for elk represent a reversal of a thorough and transparent public process, it has the potential risk of “flipping” the incentives for keeping elk off of lands which are prone to elk-human conflict.
We need to give adequate time for not only the ink to dry on the 2012 Elk Management plan, but the opportunity for its implementation before revisiting any of its provisions, much less its most contentious.
Some may suggest that raising this level of concern as a result of a locally-produced television segment is an over-reaction. However, if we have learned nothing else during the past two years it is that whenever State legislators assemble around the embers of what is left of the DNR, there will soon be a fire.
To judge for yourself, here is a link to one of the segments which appeared on TV 7&4: