MARQUETTE — ABC 10 has learned that the Upper Peninsula deer herd has reached an epic low. The U.P. herd is thought to be around 100,000 deer or lower.

The problem is, no one really knows how many deer there are. There’s no effective counting system in place. Before this last harsh and deadly winter, the U.P. herd was estimated at 126,000 deer. Numerous sources tell us the herd could easily drop below 100,000 if this winter is as bad as expected.

That compared to the over–population era of 600,000 U.P. deer, lasting until record-breaking winters in the mid-’90s. About 200,000 deer died during months of extreme cold and deep snow that led to a federal disaster declaration.

“So if this U.P. herd is really down to 136,000 deer, me as a hunter, I say, ‘Oh, my god’,” ABC 10 and CW 5 news director Greg Peterson.

“Well, actually, Greg, it is lower than that,” said Alan Ettenhofer, co–founder of U.P. Whitetails Association, Inc. that has chapters across the U.P. “Because those figures were actually given to us before the season. It was a guesstimate by the DNR that we have just over 136,000 deer starting out the season, so the animals that were actually taken (during 2014) must be subtracted from that number. And yes, we are very concerned. With this past two bad winters that we’ve had, the actual herd numbers have been going down in conjunction with hunting, the taking of animals. And of course, our predators out there, both the coyote and the wolf.”

During winter, most U.P. deer migrate to deeryards, including south to Menominee and Delta counties. At noon this Sunday on In Focus, ABC 10 News Director Greg Peterson begins a two–part look at how officials hope to restore the herd, and they need your help.

The U.P. Whitetails Association and other groups are working with hunters and the state to find solutions. A U.P. Whitetails project this past summer to feed deer included planting various seeds and grasses.

“This was in the Whitefish River Basin complex area in Delta County approximately five miles north of Rapid River,” said Shawn Cannon, U.P. Whitetails habitat project consulting forester and owner of Cannon Forestry Resources. “There was an abandoned farm that hadn’t been farmed in 40 years, and then rotated into a perennial seedings with grasses like your clover, chicory, alfalfa and a cover crop of oats.”

For now. Most U.P. deer are does. There were pockets this fall where hunters saw does but few bucks.

U.P. trail cams are evidence that there is still hope. A nice swamp buck was captured this fall in the Floodwood Plains area of north Dickinson County by Luke Elvetici of Negaunee.

Officials now fear that U.P. buck hunting, as a rule, will continue to be poor for the next five years. During winter, most U.P. deer migrate to deer-yards including south to Menominee and Delta counties. The U.P. woods are filled with all kinds of wildlife now being spotted regularly on trail cams.

A nice U.P. bear was captured on film by Elvetici, and wolves have been caught including this Menominee County pack.

Harsh winters are the big killer of U.P. deer, so 100,000 deer and 650 wolves share the U.P. range.

It’s now clear the low U.P. deer numbers is a big factor in state officials aggressively pursuing wolf hunting because even deer not killed for food are stressed after long chases.

Our In Focus guests next weekend will be DNR U.P. wildlife biologists.