By John Barnes
Michigan's largest conservation organization is expected to push for changes in laws that have vast differences in fines for illegally killing elk versus trophy deer.
Drew Youngedyke, spokesman for the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, says the organization likely will take up the matter by this summer's June convention.
Under a new law, poachers face a $10,000 fine for illegally killing a buck deer with six points per antler, 12 total. The fine is $1,500 for killing a royal elk, sometimes a herd bull, with the same amount of antler tines. The $1,500 is true for an imperial elk, 14 points, or the monarch, 16 points.
That makes little sense, with less than 700 elk in Michigan, versus more than perhaps 1 million deer, about one-third of them bucks, anti-poaching advocates say.
Youngedyke said an MUCC member is preparing a position the organization may take up that addresses the discrepancy.
In a recent column for MUCC, he wrote that a fraction of illegal hunters is hurting the community of legal hunters, and chastised "anti-hunting forces."
"They don't pay attention to the 700,000-plus legal and ethical hunters who take to the woods every year. They only notice the few slob hunters and poachers who make headlines," Youngedyke wrote. "So stop it. Whether that's you or someone you know, stop it. If you hear about it, report it. No more 'wink, wink.' No more 'shoot, shovel and shut up.' Those days are over. They never should have existed in the first place. They have to be over; otherwise no one will be able to hunt in the future.
"Hunters make up less than 20% of the population. We are and always have been a minority. We're a significant and powerful minority, but a minority nonetheless. So are the anti-hunters. Our ability to keep our hunting rights depends on the goodwill and reputation we have with the non-hunting public in the middle."
Increased fines passed in February and sponsored by state Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair, targeted primarily the illegal killing of trophy-sized deer, but not other game animals.
Ed Golder, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said the department is aware of the discrepancy in penalties for deer poaching versus other species.
"Sen. Pavlov's legislation focused sensibly on the issue with the most impact on natural resources in Michigan and on other hunters," Golder said. "Ninety percent of all hunters in Michigan hunt deer. That said, we welcome a broader discussion regarding the illegal taking of other species, including elk, to bring those penalties in line with the newly established penalties for the illegal taking of trophy deer."
Numerous state lawmakers did not return repeated calls for comment, including state Rep. Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Township in St. Clair County, and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee. State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources, Environment and Great Lakes Committee, also did not return calls for comment. Pavlov, vice chair of the Senate committee, declined comment, an aide said.
At least six poached elk have been reported during the recent firearm deer season, when DNR law enforcement officers say more hunters are in the woods and discover illegal game-taking.
Elk herds are centered in the Pigeon River Country State Forest - which includes parts of Otsego, Cheboygan and Montmorency counties - but they extend well outside the park's nearly 100,000 acres. Atlanta is the self-described Elk Capital of Michigan. The animals are the lineage of seven elk imported in 1918 to reestablish their presence.