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Great Lakes Article:

Deer damage to Lake Michigan islands studied
Associated Press
07/28/03


LELAND, Mich. - American Indian lore says the North and South Manitou islands in Lake Michigan symbolize two bear cubs that died while crossing the lake with their mother.

But for environmentalists, the two islands have come to represent how humans can disrupt the ecological balance of America's forests.

"Man's legacy is still felt on the islands' ecosystems," Michigan Technological University biologist David Flaspohler told the Traverse City Record-Eagle for a recent story. "I can guarantee they don't look anything like they used to."

Flaspohler and National Park Service officials say the key problem confronting the islands now is the deer that people brought with them to North Manitou in 1926.

The effect of the deer that were introduced to the island for a private hunting preserve has been so pronounced that the U.S. Forest Service has commissioned a three-year, $197,000 study of the issue.

In short, the vegetation eaten by the deer is the same vegetation that supports a variety of bird species such as the black-throated blue warbler and the ground-nesting ovenbird.

For officials managing the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to which the island belong, the changes pose a daunting challenge.

"We are trying to maintain our natural environment as unimpaired as possible," said Steve Yancho, the park resource manager.

Yancho and other officials say they worry that the islands are following diverging ecological paths.

The Canadian yew, which covers the forest floor on South Manitou, is almost extinct on North Manitou. Similarly, the cedars that fill the southern island are conspicuously absent on the northern island.

The warbler and ovenbird "are the ones we think are being most affected because they live in the area most often eaten by the deer," said Flaspohler.

Environmental officials have been working to keep the deer population down. While the deer population once reached a high of 2,000, they are now fewer than 200 as a result of controlled hunting. That has allowed the regrowth of much of the underbrush that deer had picked clean.

But Flaspohler said he fears that may not be enough and that the deer may have to be removed altogether.

The move is unpopular with hunters.

"I like hunting out there and a lot of guys would really pitch a fit," said Scott Lammers, a hunter.

Another hunter, Wyman Friske, says officials should not remove any of the islands' plants or deer.

"White-tailed deer are native to Michigan, Leelanau County," he said. "And I'd say they are native to North Manitou because they've been there so long."

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