Wildlife Management Practices

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.

Surveying wildlife populations, continually tracking of birth and death rates of various species, reviewing a variety of factors and understanding the condition of their habitat, are pillars of conservation management. Consider Michigan’s keystone species, the white-tailed deer. Data such as the number of car-deer crashes, the amount of commercial crops consumed by the animals and the estimated number of deer dying due to disease are important to maintaining a healthy, sustainable herd.
Different species prefer – or require – different living conditions. Therefore, population management and habitat management go hand in hand. Wildlife managers might alter habitat to promote populations of certain species, depending on such considerations as a tract of land’s naturally occurring soil and topography and the public’s desired use of the property.

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.

Hunting plays a vital role in maintaining balanced ecosystems – and as an important bonus, the activity also provides funding for the majority of wildlife management activities through license and equipment purchases. In addition, hunting clubs and organizations raise funds for conservation, buy and conserve private lands for wildlife habitat, and partner with state and federal agencies on large-scale conservation efforts.

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.

Stopping or controlling the spread of disease that threatens to significantly harm a species – or impact other animals or even humans – is another aspect of wildlife management. An example is the response to chronic wasting disease (CWD), an always fatal, incurable condition that was detected in free-ranging deer in south-central Michigan. A core CWD Area was created that includes the mandatory checking of deer so that a large number of hunter-killed animals can be tested for CWD to evaluate the extent of the disease.
While Michigan is home to a wide variety of wildlife, some species that once lived in the state have died out. The decision to attempt to restore a species depends on the level of public support for bringing it back, whether there is ample and proper habitat for it and the reasons for its original demise. If those reasons remain a barrier to the species’ survival, wildlife managers are unlikely to pursue reintroduction.

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.

Some species are still present in Michigan or have been reintroduced in limited numbers, but their populations are so low that they are afforded special protections. In fact, almost 400 species are listed as threatened or endangered in Michigan. One of them is the Kirtland’s warbler, a songbird that nests in just a few counties in Michigan’s Lower and Upper peninsulas and a few sites in Wisconsin and Ontario. The DNR work with the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team to manage the bird’s preferred jack pine habitat by logging, burning, seeding and replanting on a rotational basis to provide approximately 38,000 acres of productive nesting habitat at all times. Habitat management for Kirtland’s warblers also benefits other wildlife species, such as rabbits, hare, white-tailed deer and ruffed grouse.

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.