Hunt applications are available until noon Sept. 1, and applicants will be notified by Oct. 3 whether they were selected. If selected, hunters are required to attend one of two pre-hunt meetings at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 or 11 a.m. Oct. 29. A $20 fee will be due at the pre-hunt meeting.
Ottawa County Natural Resources Supervisor Melanie Manion said parks officials have been happy with the dune hunts, which first started five years ago.
“We’ve had great turnout and we’ve had very safe hunts,” she said. “We’ve definitely seen some great recovery when it comes to the plants and ecosystem.”
Manion noted that the hunts are a vital part of managing the natural lands and parks in Ottawa County.
“Every year, we do a summary of how many hunters we’ve had, how many successful hunters we’ve had and how many hunters have come back,” she said. “We keep track of the numbers, but also do the qualitative (analysis), as well.”
Prior to the first hunt in 2012, a deer exclusion area was set up in the dune area as a control point to see what it would look like without the presence of deer.
“It was evident that the deer were having a significant negative effect on the native ecosystems at North Ottawa Dunes as evident by the absence of plants within the control plot,” Manion said.
Now, after several years of hunts, the whole park looks similar to the area inside the deer exclosure, with new greenery sprouting along the forest floor and new growth emerging, she said.
Manion said it has never been the intention of the county parks department to stop doing the dune hunts due to the fact that there will always be migration of the deer herd.
“We just want to have a consistent pressure of a predator on site,” she said.
Biodiversity, Manion noted, depends on a balance of predator and prey populations.
“In Michigan, this balance has been altered by a significant loss of predators, like wolves,” she explained. “As a result, some prey populations, such as deer, do not have the natural checks and balances needed to prevent overpopulation. Humans have always been and continue to play an important role in hunting prey populations.”