A controversial restriction on hunting in the Michigan county hardest hit by a deadly deer disease is expected to make the problem worse, a study commissioned by the state shows.
The state's Natural Resources Commission got its first glimpse of data this summer from Montcalm County under the plan it approved last year to impose antler point restrictions on hunting in Montcalm, Ionia and Mecosta counties for the first time.
The commission did so in part to fight chronic wasting disease, a contagious, incurable disease that threatens to decimate the state's white-tail deer population and hunting industry. Similar to mad cow disease, chronic wasting disease attacks the brains of deer, causes the animals to act abnormally and prematurely die.
Antler point restrictions, or APRs, have been debated and implemented in fits and starts in Michigan for decades. Hunters are banned from hunting deer unless they have a certain number of antler points depending of the type of license bought from the state regulators and the hunting location in the state.
Hunters in Mecosta, Montcalm and Ionia counties are required to harvest only bucks with at least four or more points that measure at least one inch on one side of an antler. The state tends to require fewer points on an antler in other areas of Michigan.
The restrictions aim to increase the age of bucks and protect them from being hunted until they graduate to another age class with more antlers. The move encourages hunters to target more does and, in turn, reduce the overall herd.
Scenarios both with and without the restrictions show the wasting disease will increase "exponentially" in the next decade. But with the restrictions, it's significantly worse, according to preliminary findings from the joint study by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan State University researchers.
Even so, the Natural Resources Commission agreed to allow the study, only in its initial stages, to go on.
It's a move an activist group contends is "blatantly ignoring science" used for lifting the restrictions in disease zones in Iowa, Missouri and Minnesota, and goes against the responsibility the board is bound to under state law.
"We're going to be dealing with CWD for a long time. This is going to have an impact and make it worse," said Jim Sweeney, an opponent of antler point restrictions and member of nonprofit conservation group the Concerned Sportsmen of Michigan. "They are very reluctant to make a move now that makes it look like they made a mistake."