LANSING, Mich. (MIRS News) – The state Legislature, having met three times in the last 138 days, is in the midst of taking off two more weeks for the hunting recess, even though only 12% of its members have a deer hunting license.
The long-standing tradition of the fall ‘hunting break’ for Michigan state lawmakers typically falls the two weeks in November that coincide with firearm deer hunting season and Thanksgiving.
This year, the break is from Nov. 14 to Nov. 25, with the state House and Senate presumably going back in session on Tuesday, Nov. 29.
However, even though the Legislature is out for two weeks, only the first week is considered the ‘hunting break’,” said Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain). The second week is actually the Thanksgiving holiday break.
The two chambers have already been “on break” for the most part since the Fourth of July. So, should the tradition have been set aside this year, especially since only a handful of legislators have hunting licenses?
Only 18 legislators out of 148 purchased deer hunting licenses this year as of Nov. 15, said Ed Golder, public information officer at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
According to prior news reports, the numbers were only slightly better in the last two years with 20 licenses purchased by legislators in 2021 and 22 legislators participating in the hunt in 2020.
The declining numbers of hunters in the Legislature mirrors the decline happening across the state.
Do the shrinking statistics signify this legislative ritual has come to its natural conclusion? And, if so, perhaps it’s time to end the hunting break … or just rename it.
After all, what is the November break about? Hunting season? The holiday? Or something else?
All three, said LaFave, an avid hunter who got his first deer when he was 10 years old.
Hunting is a long-held cultural tradition for many Michigan families, especially those in northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, he said.
The Legislature recognizes other cultural traditions with days off, such as the Tulip Festival, the Mackinac Bridge Walk and the lower Michigan State Fair, LaFave said, so too should the legislative fall ‘hunting break’ continue.
And although the quantity of hunters in the Legislature might be shrinking, it is still a significant number, LaFave said, and will be more after he and others pick up their licenses in the coming days.
“I’m sure that we’ll get one, if not more (legislators buying their hunting license now),” LaFave said.
“That’s 15% of the Legislature … And if 15% or 20% of the Legislature can’t be there for session, work can’t be done anyway,” he said.
While the numbers of license-holders might be smaller than in previous years, that doesn’t necessarily mean those are the only members who go out hunting.
“You may also have members that don’t hunt, but their spouse does and so they go into the woods with their spouse, or their kid has the license,” LaFave said.
“I’m sure there are other members who may not have their own license but are taking . . . their 16-year-old daughter or son out.”
Whether you hunt or not, the break comes as a welcome relief to newcomers and seasoned legislators alike.
“The entire House and Senate just went up for election, if they’re returning,” LaFave said.
“So, they just spent the last six months going door to door, not seeing their families, working very hard to fight for their constituents’ beliefs and what they think is good for the state of Michigan,” he said.
Out-Of-State Deer Hunting Licenses Increase While In-State On The Decline
The number of Michiganders who hunt dropped in 2022 with license purchases declining by 0.66%. However, those licenses purchased by out-of-state visitors jumped nearly 4%, according to recently released Department of Natural Resources (DNR) data.
“We are excited to see any growth in license sales and continue to encourage hunters and anglers – whether here in Michigan or living elsewhere – to continue to enjoy all that we have to offer,” said Dustin Isenhoff, acting manager of the DNR’s Public Outreach and Engagement Unit in a press release from the Michigan Wildlife Council.
The Council is a nine-person, governor-appointed body “entrusted with educating the public about the importance of wildlife conservation,” according to its website.
The increase seen in out-of-state license sales came as a relief to the Michigan Wildlife Council as fewer licenses sold means fewer funds for conservation efforts in the state.
Hunters from out of state must shell out more than 10 times what a Michigander does if they want to hunt in the Great Lakes State.
“The bulk of the revenue generated from hunting and fishing license sales is deposited in the Michigan Game and Fish Protection Fund,” Isenhoff wrote in an email to MIRS.
License sales are the largest revenue source for the Fund, which is the DNR’s largest income source, said Nick Buggia, chair of the Wildlife Council.
It is used not only for conservation efforts and acquisition of hunting and fishing lands by the DNR, but also to “offset increased costs due to inflation and off-set or reduce hunting and fishing license increases,” according to the website.
Hunting numbers in Michigan have been on the decline for decades. The upsurge in license sales in 2020 had conservation experts cautiously optimistic the downward trend had switched directions.
And while the increases of 2020 stuck around for 2021, the surge was primarily attributed to the amount of excess time people had at their disposal, Isenhoff said.
“This year, it appears that 2020 was more of an outlier than a predictor of better numbers on the near horizon,” he said.
The only positive trend that remains now is in the older generation.
And, although the increases in license purchases for the 65 and older demographic were not as large as those in 2021 and 2020, the group still had an increase of 3.49% in hunting license purchases and a 0.4% increase for fishing.
Declines were seen in two groups: first-time hunters/anglers and women.
The greatest decrease in license purchases was in outdoor enthusiasts new to the game. First-time hunting licenses purchased declined by 2.13%, and for fishing licenses, the reduction was a whopping 11%.
Second to the newcomers were the licenses purchased by women, which shrank by 1.8% for hunting licenses and by 5.84% for anglers.
The noted decrease, at least in hunting licenses, is because it’s just not fun anymore, said Rep. Beau LAFAVE (R-Iron Mountain). And the blame can all be laid on the DNR, he said.
“I’ve been doing this (deer hunting) for 20 years,” LaFave said. “And this is the first time I haven’t had a license on opening day.
“The Department of Natural Resources have done everything in their power to make it a bigger pain in the ass and harder for Michigan to go out and manage the deer population.”
He blames the DNR’s deer baiting restrictions in the UP, the lack of any significant exceptions for people with disabilities for the declining hunter numbers and the 72-hour deer harvesting reporting requirement.
“All it does is make it harder for people to be successful and enjoy the hunting traditions,” LaFave said.
In the last quarter century, the drop in Michiganders who hunt is 250,000 people, which means “less money for conservation, habitat restoration and protection from invasive species” efforts in the state, according to the Council.
Each of these efforts are necessary to protect Michigan’s blue waters teeming with fish, maintain its green forests providing homes to thousands of wildlife species and reduce wildfire and flooding risks.
“Whether they come from the cities, towns or villages of Michigan or from other states, we are grateful for all the benefits we gain when hunters and anglers continue to support conservation by taking to the woods and waterways of the Great Lakes State,” Buggia said.
“We know they appreciate…hunting and fishing in one of the most beautiful outdoor recreation destinations in the country and we appreciate their impact in keeping it that way.”