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Bill advances to amend deer hunting penalty from misdemeanor to civil infraction

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The Michigan Department of Natural Resources says online surveys will provide them with information they haven't had access to in the past.

A bill to reduce the penalty for Michigan deer hunters failing to report harvests to the state within 72 hours advanced to the full House of Representatives this morning.

Under the current Natural Resource Commission mandate, which took effect at the start of the deer hunting season on Sept.10, failing to report a deer harvest within the 72-hour time frame could result in a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail or a fine up to $500.

“I am not here to debate the merits of the Natural Resource Commission's (NRC) existence and how this mandatory reporting exceeds their authority,” said Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, during the Government Operations committee hearing and sponsor of the bill. “I won't stand by and see good people charged with a misdemeanor crime that could hurt them in many ways.”

The bill would amend the penalty to a civil infraction and carry a possible $150 fine.

But the misdemeanor penalty of failing to report a harvest will not be enforced by the DNR this deer season, said Chad Stewart, a deer, elk and moose specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Instead, the DNR is taking an education over enforcement approach when it comes to reporting harvests.

“We're obviously supportive of the legislation as a more appropriate penalty for failure to report,” said Stewart.

Getting this amendment through the legislative process has been a part of the NRC's deer harvest policy planning for months, Stewart mentioned in a phone call with WCMU.

“The authority for passing the regulation lies within the Natural Resources Commission,” said Stewart. “But the penalty for failing to report is not held within the Natural Resources Commission's authority. That is through the legislative process.”

Rep. Hoitenga said the DNR’s lack of enforcement of the law is leading her to “question the credibility of the science-based mandates that they create. How is a hunter to know which laws a department is enforcing and when they decide to enforce them or not enforce them?”

For years, the DNR mailed surveys to roughly 10% of licensed hunters in the state to better understand how many deer were likely harvested and learn other key management variables like size and location. According to Stewart, the number of survey responses has fallen drastically over the past decade.

Data collected from the online surveys will give the DNR insights its never had in the past.

"We’ll have day-to-day harvest records of when deer are getting harvested," said Stewart in a July 2022 interview with WCMU. “So we'll know the impact of season length or equipment use in season that we haven't been able to tease out before because it's always just been sort of one case one metric versus another.”

The other issue brought up during the committee hearing was access to the internet. Rep. Hoitenga jokingly claimed half of deer camps in the state don’t have internet access and the 72-hour time frame is too quick a turnaround for deer hunters.

Stewart said when online harvest reporting laws go into full effect for the 2023 deer season, hunters will be allowed to report harvests for other hunters and that DNR offices will be open during regular business hours to help those who need help accessing the internet.

Editor’s note: In the interest of transparency, we note the Michigan DNR is a financial supporter with of WCMU.

Rick joined WCMU as a general assignment reporter in March 2022.