Michigan House OKs bill to block criminal penalties linked to deer reporting rule

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — The Michigan House approved a bill Wednesday seeking to deliver some relief for hunters who will be mandated for the first time this year to report a deer harvest within 72 hours or face potential criminal charges.

The Housevoted 70-38 on a fast-tracked bill moved from committee Wednesdaymorning that would lower the penalty for noncompliance from a misdemeanor to a civil fine of about $150, a move that the bill sponsor said is a stopgap ahead of the Oct. 1 start of bow season in Michigan.

A House floor substitute added language barring the commission from issuing "an order or interim order requiring a hunter to report the harvest of deer or retain a harvest confirmation for that deer."

The bill, prior to the substitute, had the support of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Department of Natural Resources, giving some indication of the governor's stance on the legislation should it make it past the Senate, where it is next up for approval.

"Would many of us like to see the penalty removed altogether or better yet the mandate eliminated altogether? Yes," said Rep. Michele Hoitenga, the Manton Republican who sponsored the bill. "But, with hunting season already here, I am confident the governor will see the merits of this bill and sign it into law."

A deer makes its way along side a fairway in Stony Creek Metropark golf course at the Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center in Washington Township in December. The Michigan House approved Wednesday a bill that would lower the penalty for hunters who will be mandated for the first time this year to report a deer harvest within 72 hours.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday it would like to see a proposal to decriminalize the mandate moved to the governor "as soon as possible." But the department does not support the wholesale elimination of the mandate.

"When mandatory deer harvest reporting was implemented, the only penalty available under statute was a criminal one," said Ed Golder, a spokesman for the department. "We think a civil infraction is more proper for failure to report a deer harvest. Regardless of penalty, our conservation officers will focus their efforts this year on education around this new regulation rather than enforcement."

Golder added: "We continue to support mandatory deer harvest reporting as an important and useful tool for deer management."

The Michigan Natural Resources Commission, a seven-member board of gubernatorial appointees, approved rules in June that required hunters for the first time to report deer kills in an online harvest report within 72 hours.

The rules inherited default penalties under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act that made violation of the mandate a misdemeanor that could earn hunters up to 90 days in jail and/or a fine of $50 to $500.

The requirement, largely publicized in August, caused an uproar among hunters who had previously only been required to attach a paper tag with information on the kill to the deer. Compliance was spot-checked by DNR conservation officers, and some hunters were asked to voluntarily complete an annual survey to track harvest numbers and hunter demographics.

But the DNR reported decreasing responses to the survey, with 33% of those sent surveys last year responding.

Many hunters still are unaware of the new requirement, Hoitenga said. Even if they were, many hunt from deer camps with little access to the internet, making it difficult to comply with the 72-hour timeline, she said.

"There’s a lot of frustration," Hoitenga said. "When the committee meets, they have public hearings. But a lot of times people aren’t able to attend those meetings."

Amy Trotter, executive director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, acknowledged the commission and DNR had exclusive authority to make the rule but said members were supportive of decreasing the penalty for noncompliance.

"There is wide consensus of support to move this bill forward as introduced to reduce the penalty for failure to comply with the mandatory elements of harvest reporting," Trotter said Wednesday.

Rep. Timothy Beson, a Bangor Township Republican and deer processor, spoke in support of the bill, echoing frustrations over the bureaucratic burden of rules that appear to parallel the reporting requirements already mandated for processors handling the same deer.

Beson argued the regulations, in general, for processors already are burdensome and could drive Michigan's processors out of business.

"It’s going to be done in people’s garage and pole barn," he said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

Staff writer Carol Thompson contributed.