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Monroe — In an effort to boost dwindling deer numbers in the Upper Peninsula, state officials will restrict hunting in the area this year.

Members of Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission voted Thursday to eliminate antler-less deer hunting for archers using deer and deer combo licenses. Firearm hunting seasons will not be affected.

It’s a step that’s likely to affect the plans of thousands of hunters. Archers typically take between 5,000 and 6,300 antler-less deer each year in the Upper Peninsula.

So far, Michigan has sold 56,000 deer licenses of all kinds across the state. Purchasers will be allowed to return licenses.

It’s the first time Michigan has taken this step, although other Great Lakes states have done the same thing in recent years, officials said.

The deer hunt in the Upper Peninsula this year has been in jeopardy as a result of two consecutive harsh winters that have taken a toll on the animals. Heavy and persistent snows in 2013 and 2014 resulted in low count numbers — some of the lowest in decades.

“Those numbers, if they hold true, we will be at the lowest levels in 30 years ... ,” said Chad Stewart, a DNR deer management specialist, last month. “We were down about 20 to 30 percent (in dead deer) at our check stations this year.”

Commissioner J.R. Richardson said Thursday the state normally tries to maintain a hands-off approach and respect nature’s impact on wildlife populations.

“We haven’t seen two winters like that since the 1970s,” he said. “It was nasty ... . We respect the cycles, but this was nasty.”

Not everyone was on board with curtailing the hunt. Commissioner Christine Crumbaugh cast the lone opposing vote in a 5-1 tally.

“I think (limiting the season) has a very negligible impact on the population and it doesn’t warrant the ... impact on the archery hunters,” she said.

State officials indicated in May closing deer hunting season in the Upper Peninsula would be considered as a means of countering the population loss. So Thursday’s decision wasn’t as bad for hunters as it could have been.

Dean Hall, outgoing president of the Michigan Bow Hunters Association, said he has received many calls from hunters who wanted the commission to allow the U.P. deer situation to play out without state interference.

“Some of them are not going to be happy ... ,” he said. “These are people who are very passionate about their bow hunting and their archery ... . Their preference would have been to maintain the status quo and do nothing.”

Rough winters aren’t the only threat to Michigan deer, and the Natural Resources Commission agenda also focused on new concerns over chronic wasting disease.

A single, free-ranging deer in Ingham County’s Meridian Township tested positive in April for the disease, which affects white tail and mule deer, as well as elk and moose. It is not known to pose any risk to humans.

The finding led state officials to set up a management and monitoring zone that covers nine townships across three counties. They are:

Alaiedon, Delhi, Lansing, Meridian, Wheatfield and Williamstown in Ingham County.

Woodhull in Shiawassee County.

Bath and DeWitt in Clinton County.

jlynch@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2034

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