Wildlife management and conservation are ever evolving and are based on numerous considerations, including the public’s needs and desires and changes in the natural environment, such as disease affecting a certain species.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the agency with primary responsibility for conserving our state’s wildlife, employs a wide range of scientifically proven methods for species management.
One activity involves forest regeneration. For example, a stand of oak trees in a state forest for decades might supply protein-rich acorns on which deer, squirrels and other animals can thrive. However, eventually (usually after around 150 years), oak trees stop producing acorns, so the state might charge a timber company for the right to cut down the trees, allowing for regeneration of new acorn-providing oaks.
Without legal, regulated hunting, wildlife populations can outgrow their food sources, potentially leading to die-offs of both animals and plants until equilibrium is restored. Wildlife managers can use a variety of hunting-related techniques to keep species in healthy balance with their habitats.
For example, adjusting bag limits – restrictions on the number of animals within a specific species that hunters may harvest – will affect the overall numbers of a species. Shortening or extending hunting seasons – such as by creating a special, additional season for youth hunters – is another method for controlling populations. When it comes to whitetail deer, regulations regarding the taking of females can impact the species’ population. For example, removing does from the population interrupts the species’ reproductive cycle, lowering the number of fawns born and, eventually, the overall numbers of deer.
One resounding success story is the reintroduction of wild turkeys, which are once again thriving in Michigan. After unregulated hunting and habitat destruction decimated the population at the turn of the 20th century, Michigan bought wild turkeys from Pennsylvania and reintroduced them here. Today, an estimated 215,000 wild turkeys call Michigan home. More recently, plans are in the works to reintroduce the Arctic grayling, a native and iconic fish species that died off nearly a century ago due to logging that blocked waterways in the 1800s, overfishing and general habitat destruction. The effort will lean heavily on recent scientific research in Michigan.
The general public also is enlisted in species preservation efforts. Today, habitat loss due to lawns, pavement, climate change and invasive species represents the greatest threat to endangered species in Michigan. Residents can plant a native plant garden to make food and shelter for wildlife like butterflies or birds.