Michigan DNR proposes adding rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks and others to lethal nuisance regulations
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants to add several animals to its list of furbearer and small game nuisance regulations. Private landowners could kill those animals without obtaining a permit from the agency. The wildlife managers also want to tighten up the language on what defines “nuisance."
Coyotes, skunks, raccoons, and woodchucks are already regulated as nuisance animals. Private landowners can kill an unlimited number year-round without a permit if they feel the animals will cause damage.
Now, the DNR is proposing adding cottontail rabbits, fox squirrels, gray squirrels, red squirrels, ground squirrels — sometimes called chipmunks — opossums, weasels, muskrats, and beavers to the list.
“The species that we chose are relatively very common on the landscape and contribute to the vast majority of nuisance issues with the public. And so that's why they were chosen,” said Cody Norton, a large carnivore specialist with the DNR. He presented the proposal to the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) last month. The NRC is an appointed board which makes decisions about wildlife management. You can see his slide presentation here.
The proposal alarmed some of the people who attended the meeting.
Thomas Gilpin is with the Anishinaabek Caucus of the Democratic Party. It works on behalf of the interests of Native American tribes in the state.
Gilpin said these animals are sacred to tribal culture and some clans are named after the animals.
“And we definitely oppose the terminology of nuisance applied to them. They're a part of the living community around us,” he said, adding, “The life stories come from lessons from many of the animals.”
You can see an example of this in the Ojibwe Seven Grandfather Teachings.
Gilpin is against what he sees as allowing an open season without limit on these animals.
“If you have private property, you can kill them all year long. As many as you want. Rabbits, squirrels, woodchucks, I think were already on that list. But a number of others. Quite disturbing, actually,” he said.
The DNR's Cody Norton said the proposal is limited to animals causing certain kinds of damage.
“Damage to forest products, roads, dams, buildings, orchards, apiaries, livestock and horticultural or agricultural crops,” he explained.
So, if one of the animals is on the nuisance list and they’re about to do that kind of damage, a private landowner can — in wildlife management terms — “take” that animal by shooting or trapping it, depending on the species.
“Just them eating out of a bird feeder or breaking your bird feeder is not going to be damage that would justify taking them. But if they're chewing into your house or, you know, cutting through electrical lines or they're causing actual damage to your property, then if somebody came to us right now and asked for a written permit, we aren't going to say no,” Norton said.
Changing the nuisance animals regulations would mean the agency wouldn’t spend as much staff time writing out permits for something it’s not going to refuse anyway.
But, the language describing whether an animal is causing or could cause damage is vague and people interpret it differently. Some people have decided if there’s a raccoon somewhere on their property, it might cause damage to their chicken coop, and that makes it a nuisance. So, it can be killed.
“So we're basically trying to change that language to be a little bit more specific in what we're intending and when this would apply. So instead of “they're about to do damage,” it's (proposed to be) “doing or physically present where it could imminently cause damage,” he said.
The populations of some of the animals have exploded in cities and suburbs as they’ve adapted to those landscapes. Norton said homeowners need to be able to deal with critters gnawing holes in their homes to make nests in their attics and other kinds of damage.
The solution for some people has been to live trap animals and then release them in the woods far away. State law does not allow that unless it’s by a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. If you live trap an animal, it must be either let loose at that spot immediately or it must be killed.
Thomas Gilpin with the Anishinaabek Caucus said the proposal to add rabbits, squirrels, and beavers — among others, goes too far.
“We suggested that they take a step back and reconsider this. This is not the right direction. In fact they’re going in the opposite direction they should be going,” he said.
The Natural Resources Commission is expected to take up the issue at its next meeting on May 11 at Lansing Community College.