The Michigan Natural Resources Commission has responded to a spike in deer-related crop damage by allowing farmers in five northern Michigan counties to obtain a special permit to shoot deer throughout the fall. In previous years, those who held Deer Management Assistance Permits were only able to take deer with the legal equipment appropriate to the season.

The Traverse City Record-Eagle reports that, in order to protect their investment, farmers in Antrim, Benzie, Charlevoix, Grand Traverse, and Leelanau counties can take part in the special three-year pilot program, which will be evaluated by the DNR. The new permit allows hunting outside of the scheduled firearms and bowhunting seasons, but it is not without conditions. Firearms use will still be prohibited from October 1 to 4 and from November 10 to 14, and applicants must prove they’ve tried and failed to control deer with archery equipment.

One Michigan farmer quoted in the story says he has had to replace 2 to 5 percent of his fruit trees due to deer damage in recent years. Deer eat the trees’ early growth in the spring and rub antlers against trees, weakening them, in the fall. A cherry farmer expressed concern that hunters are showing less interest in antlerless deer, and are less likely to help manage the population on his farm.

Others don’t think the rule is justified. “We feel there were already enough means necessary out there to control the population, mainly through hunters themselves being able to utilize antlerless licenses,” says Ryan Ratajczak, the president of the Northwest Michigan Quality Deer Management Association. “My concern is that they’re actually following the rules and the DNR is following up on this program.”