The Michigan Legislature took the next step this week toward allowing hunters to hit the Upper Peninsula woods with hopes of setting their sights on a moose. The action came from the House and Senate, which approved concurring bills establishing a season and created an advisory council to study the concept over the next 12 months.
A legislative analysis from the Senate and House committees that worked on the issue includes information on estimated economic impact and what impact an "expanded" hunting season would have on the moose population, which was termed as "stable and growing modestly."
That population is pegged at between 500 and 600 moose, including about 400 animals in the western U.P. that are presumably connected to the moose translocations in 1985 and 1987.
Based on that number, Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment officials said there could be 12 to 15 bull moose taken each year without harm to the population.
Then we have the potential economic impact of having a hunt, which would include a lottery system for drawing a license.
It's no secret that Michigan is in poor economic shape right now, and all state departments are going to be scrambling for money in the years ahead.
So I'm sure it was appealing to legislators to learn that 57,285 hunters applied for bear licenses in 2009 and paid the $4 application fee, which added up to $229,140 for the DNRE. In addition, 38,826 elk license applications were made in 2009, bringing in another $155,304.
And even though there would be far fewer licenses available, the lure of being able to hunt a U.P. moose would undoubtedly draw considerable interest from big game hunters and generate some real cash.
So it appears the overriding motivation here is money, and that's fine to dream up new ways to bring money into state coffers. However, whenever the idea of a moose hunt comes up in my hunting circles there is usually a universal look of bewilderment on everybody's face.
Moose, which were brought to the U.P. from Ontario in the much celebrated Moose Lift I and Moose Lift II in the mid-1980s, have become more of a novelty than an integral part of the U.P.'s wildlife scene.
Sure they are wonderful to see in the woods, but when was the last time you saw one? There are the occasional sightings reported and some photographers and wildlife lovers know of locations where a few hang out, but the fact is there are not that many sightings talked about.
When a total of 61 moose were brought in during the 1985 and 1987 translocations there were high hopes the population would mushroom - to an estimated 1,000 by the year 2000 to quote former state wildlife biologists.
When the moose were released they predicted that if that number was reached, then there maybe could be a limited hunt.
That was good news, seeing hunters' money and funds from the Safari Club went into the project. But moose numbers never grew that large, due in large part to increased brainworm deaths brought on by an expanding whitetail deer herd. Whitetails carry the parasite without harm while it is fatal to moose.
There's also increased pressure from predators and even climate change impacts, according to some researchers.
Even the estimate of 500 to 600 moose in the U.P. is suspect, seeing research biologists tried several methods of counting the herd but never found a reliable way to count moose. Perhaps that's because there are a whole lot of woods out there and not many moose, a fact that hunters would also discover as they attempt to find a bull to shoot.
But then another industry would be created - the moose hunting guide. There are plenty of photographers and birders out there who cross paths with moose now and then, and I'm sure they'd like to make a little extra cash while enjoying a trek in the woods.
It's clear to me the motivation to have a moose hunting season is rooted in increasing revenues and not on biological or commonsense reasons - and it's simply a bad idea at this time.
Editor's note: City Editor Dave Schneider can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.