By Steve Griffin ©Midland Daily News 2007
What’s worse than not having a winning lottery ticket?
Thinking you have the winner, and then finding out you were wrong.
Some Michigan hunters may have felt like that earlier this month, when the DNR posted on its website the names of winners in the annual drawing for bear hunting licenses.
One can imagine grinning bear hunters early Monday morning, June 4, making plans, booking guides and reserving motel rooms. But then, by a little after 9 a.m., the names that had been posted at midnight had disappeared.
Computers had misfired, DNR officials realized – the result of a change made this year to provide opportunities to more hunters.
In the past, permits had gone unclaimed for some hunts in some units, particularly in the Upper Peninsula. This year, applicants could indicate that if unsuccessful in the drawing for their first choice, they’d like to be considered for one of the leftovers.
But the computer wasn’t quite ready to handle that added wrinkle.
"In trying to fix one problem, we inadvertently created another situation," Wildlife Division staffer Doug Reeves said Wednesday.
The computer just couldn’t make the second-choice option play nice with its preference point system.
People were assigned licenses who shouldn’t have been. People who should have been listed weren’t.
Once the problem was identified, DNR officials had no choice but to recant. "Michigan is legally required to accurately utilize the preference point system," said an agency news release."
The release quoted Bill Moritz, chief of the DNR’s Wildlife Division: "We are sorry for the inconvenience that the posting of incorrect information may have caused. However, we are pleased that the errors were found and corrected quickly."
The preference point system aims to spread bear hunting opportunities to more hunters. Each year that you apply without success, you gain one preference point.
When drawing time comes, applicants with the greatest number of points for the hunt they’ve selected, are issued licenses first.
You might have no preference points and draw a hunt that is in low demand, while in another, more popular unit, it may take five points or more to draw a tag.
Some hunters take the ‘banking’ option, applying and saying they don’t want a license this year, but want to earn and bank a preference point anyway.
Once you’ve been drawn, eligible to buy a license, you go back to zero preference points – even if you don’t follow through and buy your license.
The system rewards continuing interest in bears, too. If you go three straight years without applying for a license, you lose your banked preference points.
Applicants successful in the bear drawing can donate their success to a youth who was unsuccessful in the drawing, or to a person of hunting age with advanced illness,
regardless of whether that person took part in the original drawing.
License eligibility donors can’t accept a fee or guide the recipient for a fee. Nor can they determine who gets their license entitlement; that’s determined by a drawing among qualified recipients.
All this, obviously, makes awarding licenses a complex process, and it’s a wonder there aren’t more foul-ups than there are. It also calls for judgment calls on fix-ups.
Officials decided, for example, that the 34 people who saw their apparent success June 4 and bought licenses before the problem was identified would be allowed to keep and use them. Notifying people and reclaiming licenses was seen as mighty thorny.
It’s tough to admit making a mistake, and it’s sometimes awkward fixing it.
Reeves said that most hunters who have inquired have been understanding once the situation was explained to them. (Hunters with questions about the drawing can call the DNR’s Wildlife Division at 517-373-1263.)
Moritz’s Wildlife Division is doing a good job of acknowledging a problem, explaining it, and making things right.
Now, about that lottery ticket.
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