Hunters, anglers fret over outdoor restrictions

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Image: Wikimedia Commons.

By Kyle Davidson
Capital News Service

Michigan hunters and anglers are struggling to understand and live under new state government regulations that limit recreational activities.

The end of April marks the beginning of Michigan’s spring turkey season statewide, as well as walleye season in the Upper Peninsula.

But the executive orders implemented to fight coronavirus could limit both.

One effect of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s extension of her stay-at-home order is to limit travel between residences. Under that policy, most Michigan residents can no longer travel to visit friends or relatives or drive to their cabins Up North.

The governor’s extension had banned the use of motor boats, jet skis and similar watercraft through the end of the month. On Friday she issued another order that permits some outdoor activities, including motorized boating.

That came after a judge agreed to hear testimony regarding a temporary injunction filed by Michigan United Conservation Clubs.

“Our case was very straightforward — Michigan boaters and anglers may not be threatened with criminal charges based on an arbitrary interpretation of a poorly written executive order,” MUCC lawyer Aaron Phelps said in a prepared statement.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has made accommodations for turkey hunters, allowing them to convert kill tags registered for a far-away residence to a license for statewide hunting.

The ban on watercraft use was controversial.

Nick Green, the public information officer for Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), said the decision wasn’t scientific or necessary.

Tournament angler Mark Zona, who grew up fishing in Sturgis and Kalamazoo, had also expressed disapproval of the restrictions, encouraging anglers to contact the governor’s office and share their grievances.

And Alan Ettenhofer of the UP Whitetails Association, based in Gladstone, said, “The people of the Upper Peninsula are very seasonal with their sporting interests. This time of year, everyone that likes to fish wants to get ready for walleye fishing.

“Many cannot understand why you can take your family for a ride in the side-by-side [a type of ATV] but cannot take them fishing in a motorized boat,” he said.

“All in the same family, together all the time anyway.”

Steve Dey of the Straits Area Sportsmen’s Club was concerned that members wouldn’t be able to harass cormorants without motorized boats. Many sports anglers blame the birds for preying on fish.

While Michigan’s trapping season is coming to a close, Mark Earl, who handles public relations for the Michigan Trappers and Predator Callers Association, said if the ban had come sooner, it would have adversely affected a number of trappers.

Earl said, “If they had [ordered] the boat motor restriction a month earlier or a few weeks earlier, it would have really hurt a lot of people.

“Once you get a legally set trap line, it might take you a week to get everything out. Then if they shut that down, all of a sudden you may not even have time to get everything out of the water,” he said.

Jane Finnerty, the director of MUCC’s Region 3, said,“I don’t see the difference whether two people are out in a rowboat or two people are in a motor boat.”

The region covers Missaukee, Grand Traverse, Leelanau, Emmet, Benzie, Wexford, Manistee, Mason, Kalkaska, Lake, Osceola and Clare counties.

“I think the DNR is trying to be fair about it. They’re giving out warnings,” Finnerty said.

“If you get obstinate with them, you’re probably going to get a ticket, but if they warn you and you obey what they say, they’re probably going to leave you alone. They’re just doing what they’re told by their superiors,” Finnerty said.

On its website, the DNR cited heavy use of boat launches that violate social distancing requirements as the primary reason for the ban.

Editor’s note: This story was updated 2 p.m. April 24, 2020 to reflect the decision to allow motorboating.

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