Power Island is open to any bow hunter who can find a boat ride over there for the first time since at least the 1970s.
Grand Traverse County and the Department of Natural Resources will allow any hunter with a deer license and a way to get to the island to hunt the deer on the 202-acre island in West Grand Traverse Bay, west of Bower’s Harbor on Old Mission Peninsula. The measure is an effort to avoid massive winter starvation of the deer over-populating the island.
“That wouldn’t make the island a very welcoming place to visit in the spring,” says Jason Jones, director of the county parks and recreation department.
Bow hunting season opened last week and runs until Nov. 14. If the bow-hunting fails to solve the deer population problem, officials will reassess the matter and decide what else needs to be done. One possible solution is to have a veterans or a specific club or civic group hunt the remaining bucks and does.
“The population has gotten too high for what the island can sustain,” says Steve Griffith, the DNR wildlife habitat biologist who recommended that the county open the island to hunting.
Officials eradicated the deer population on the island in 1976, the year after the county obtained it. It remained deer-free for about 30 years before the species returned there by either swimming or walking across an ice-bridge.
Wildlife experts first noticed deer in small numbers there six or so years ago. Now, as many as 50 of the animals roam the woods there and have seriously depleted the vegetation they feed on.
Power Island is considered a jewel in the county’s park system. It includes hiking trails and allows camping, among other activities. It’s a favorite stop for boaters in the bay.
According to Fred Tank, the park ranger who lives there six months of the year, the island’s ecology is different from the mainland because it has fewer species of mammals to eat the plants.
One of the species found there that’s not generally found on the mainland is the Canada yew, a shrub that has been seriously stunted on the island by the explosion of the deer population.
While the deer have used up a lot of their food, there still are a lot of plump, healthy ones.
“It would certainly be worth someone’s while to hunt there,” he says.
Last year, the island was opened to limited public for hunting by special permit, but “it wasn’t a great success,” Jones says. This year, anyone with a license may hunt there.
When the deer were eradicated on the island 30 years ago, it took them 30 years to come back.
“We don’t know if it would take the same amount of time to come back now,” Jones says.
In 2010, the department sent three sheriff’s deputies to the island to try to take five deer, figuring that would be enough to solve the problem at the time. It didn’t.
“They were more elusive than we expected,” Jones says.