Michigan's baiting dilemma
My Thoughts -- My Views -- My Questions...
February 01, 2011There is not a hotter topic among Wolverine State deer hunters than baiting. The debate over baiting has heated up to the point where many Michigan residents are willing to break the new baiting regulations. We all know hunters that bend the baiting rules but is there action justified and more importantly how do you feel about baiting laws? Are they confusing, unjustified and discriminatory or necessary to promote sportsmanlike conduct and prevent diseases? This subject has divided Michigan hunters, created chaos in the whitetail nation like no other and it is the hottest hunting topic being debated.
When chronic wasting disease (CWD) reared its ugly head near Grand Rapids, Michigan's DNR outlawed baiting. With no substantial evidence that baiting has negative impact on the health of whitetail populations, baiting has been growing in popularity up until the ban. There is little doubt that thousands of Michigan deer hunters like to hunt over bait. Some ask "Why is it still outlawed after no new outbreak of CWD?"
Most wildlife biologists are dead against baiting or even feeding deer. The reasons are many. Of the negatives, the most important is the potential increase in the transmission of diseases such as CWD and tuberculosis; both which have been found in Michigan. Or were they?
First, let me say that I'm not a qualified biologist but I have more time logged in the field than most and I can tell most deer biologists a great deal about deer and their behavior than they learn from books or lab work. It is my opinion bases on field observations and qualified by photos that deer are social animals that swap spit all day, every day. Ever watched them? Bucks, doe and fawn whitetail deer are constantly licking each other, kissing and saliva is exchanged on a daily basis. This has nothing to do with food. So, it is my opinion that diseases can be transmitted without the influence of food sources because deer are licking, cleaning, touching and exchanging bodily fluids. Within the whitetail's world nose touching is a way deer greet each other.
Enter TB, which was supposedly started in Michigan by deer. Wrong! It is my opinion that TB was started by infected cows purchased out of state and transported to the Alpena area. It is also my opinion that the reason the state used deer as the TB scapegoat was to protect our grade "A" beef rating. So, what came first the chicken or the egg? Or better yet, once cows infected the deer population which animal started the cycle? Don't get me wrong TB is a real problem disease that the state needs to continue to resolve but it is my opinion the state used deer as a TB scapegoat to cover up the problem of TB infected cattle.
CWD is a completely different story. So, the DNR found a total of one infected animal in a confined deer pen and the source of the disease was confirmed to originate from a protein food source. The single incident had nothing to do with baiting and further there was no indication it was transmitted to Michigan's wild deer herd. But Lansing was extra-fast at shutting down baiting prior to further testing. When extensive research, investigation and tests were complete the DNR came up with a big goose egg.
So, where is the CWD? Did the DNR quickly exterminate the problem? Better yet, are you certain the original sick animal was not a hoax? What if a lab worker made a mistake and an overanxious supervisor passed the bad news to someone who was hell bent on banning baiting? Are you totally convinced that someone within the DNR wasn't out to simply create new jobs, cultivate more research, and test animals at a huge cost to sportsmen? The Natural Resources CWD Task Force set rules to stop baiting if CWD was ever found, but was it really discovered?
If so, then why was it not found in any of the other animals on the farm, in the soil, any of the animals sold or any of the hundreds of other wild deer inspected? Sound suspicious? Well, are you certain that the goal of the CWD hoax was to stop baiting and there never was any disease? Even if there was one positive test, how long ago was that and isn't the DNR overreacting to still stop baiting years after the fact? Michigan sportsmen have long questioned why one CWD incident should have immediate impact on baiting throughout the state? If CWD was found in a penned animal was the DNR justified in banning bait statewide? Did Lansing overreact to the situation?
From a biological standpoint baiting could lead to the spread of diseases. But is there any data to support this theory? Certainly none exists in Michigan. From a management standpoint halting baiting is probably best for the herd. But if fewer animals survive harsh winter weather without food, turkey populations suffer and recreational viewing is halted, what are the benefits? It seems strange that the DNR is so concerned about the deer herd they allow unlimited doe license sales. Allowing individuals a free pass to kill doe is not wise management. In my opinion the DNR is guilty of not protecting Michigan's deer population, which is mismanagement in the purest sense of the word.
Again, it is my opinion that there are members of Michigan's DNR, NRC and Legislators that want all baiting stopped. They want it stopped because they view it as unethical, somewhat illegal, and unsportsmanlike and they want to go down in the books as a contributor who is stopping the practice. Yet there is no argument or proof that baiting has spread any disease in Michigan, period. Further Michigan's deer herd is CWD free, period.
Is CWD In
My questions about whether CWD is in our state go unanswered by biologists in the DNR. Most avoid the question and quickly switch subjects. Some feel CWD is here but undetected, others seem to feel there is none and others say it is here to stay and will eventually lead to the demise of the herd.
Are those concerns justified? Most researchers believe that animal-to-animal contact is one way that CWD can be spread, and bait piles or feeding stations that are large and in use for long periods enhance the chance for contact. However, a study published in the Emerging Infectious Disease Journal outlines a new finding. When CWD infected deer were removed from pens and healthy deer were placed there, some contracted CWD. This suggests that excrement is the transmitter of CWD, not saliva. If a deer with CWD excrements in the wild it could transmit the disease at lightning speed to healthy animals.
What About Wisconsin
When CWD hit Wisconsin their DNR attempted to abolish baiting but public outcry was so loud that the legislature moved to compromise and allow two gallons for hunting. Sportsmen banned together and complained long and loud; so loud that the legislature listened and made baiting legal. Meanwhile, CWD is found in Wisconsin and the role of baiting has had little or no effect on the population. In fact, Wisconsin's kill is still solid. Have you looked at the record books lately?
Wisconsin has a larger harvest of mature trophy deer than Michigan. Heck, Buffalo County alone records more big bucks than the entire state of Michigan. Most sportsmen know that Michigan's DNR does such a poor job of managing the herd that savvy hunters go out of state for quality deer hunts.
But my question is this, did our DNR, NRC or legislature stone roll over your hunting rights to use bait?
Since hunters were allowed to freely use bait for over two decades, should the use of bait be your choice, not the States?
Perhaps Michigan hunters need to follow in the footsteps of Wisconsin hunters and get questions answered, hold the DNR accountable for their actions and raise a stink about baiting laws and why our herd is managed so poorly.
Does Bait Work
The answer is very obviousÖ. Absolutely! There are a number of interesting studies regarding the use of bait and hunter success and deer sightings. A study in Saskatchewan showed 59.4% of the deer were harvested over bait and hunters stayed on stand longer and saw more deer when near bait.
Baiting quickly changed the success of hunters in Michigan in a 5-county study where 59% hunted less and saw fewer animals because of the ban. In the same area 31% of gun hunters quit hunting and the kill dropped substantially.
Years ago an intensive study was done by North American Whitetail magazine that showed hunter take increased over bait and hunters would stay on stand longer and hunt more over bait. Similar results came from a survey conducted by Deer and Deer hunting Magazine. More importantly Michigan hunters have been using bait for over 20 years and many hunters have developed reliable hunting tactics that revolve around the use of bait. If the DNR keeps insisting that the herd is over 1.2 million animals and the population is exploding to the point of allowing 5 doe permits a day; then why would they rule out hunting tactics that have a proven record with Michigan hunters? It seems strange that you can buy almost unlimited doe permits but you are not allowed to put food out your back door for recreational viewing?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating the use of bait. But I do think the DNR has jerked around sportsmen regarding the controversy, left them with many unanswered questions, left them hanging and created further animosity toward Lansing. After years of use many sportsmen feel they have a right to use bait and feeding deer is good for wildlife and Michigan's economy.
Bait For Sale
Of course there are always the economic arguments regarding baiting. I find it interesting that our Governor allowed the dismissal of a multi-million dollar industry that benefits mom and pop gas stations and convenience stores across the state.
Why would you want to take money out of the pocket of your fellow man? Michigan proprietors are struggling to make ends meet and many gas stations and stores are going tube city. So, why would you want to negatively impact their income? If selling food for deer provides income for shop owners, why would you stop it, especially if disease is confined or nonexistent? Or was sale of deer bait stopped?
Outside a gas station in Ingham County there is deer bait for sale piled by the gas pumps. I ask the clerk about the bags of carrots, apples and corn. "Deer bait", the cute blond replies. On the way out I read a sign on the glass door, a DNR sticker that says, "Don't bait. Stop the spread of TB disease."
On further inspection it is interesting to see how many shops still sell bait. Wait a minute, is it illegal or not? Can you sell deer bait or not? These questions need to be addressed by our law makers.
It seems strange that Michigan biologists openly admit that the upper Michigan turkey population has declined at least 50% since the bait ban. It appears that citizens that feed birds and wildlife are tuned into the stringent DNR laws regarding baiting and they stopped feeding for recreational purposes. They fear the DNR will swoop in and give them a baiting ticket.
My question is why would law makers halt recreational feeding of birds and wildlife when it has negative impact on wildlife populations? Clearly such a law infringes on the right of Michigan citizens to view and enjoy wildlife out their living room window. If your intent is to feed and view wildlife, not hunt or kill deer, why should you be restricted from using property you own, as you see fit. After all, don't you pay the taxes?
Judging from the numerous letters regarding baiting to Woods-N-Water News it appears that some hunters are willing to break existing baiting laws in order to harvest deer. This seems risky at best and more importantly leads me to wonder if baiting laws need to be modified? Should baiting be allowed? Should it be banned? I certainly hate to read that Michigan's law abiding citizens are willing to break any law simply because they view it as a bad law. No law should entice sportsmen to risk fines or punishment just to see more deer enhance their hunt and perhaps fill their freezer.
Obviously, hunters once given the opportunity to hunt over bait find how productive it can be, how much fun it is and how it makes boring, cold hunts a hoot. Sure they are reluctant to give it up. Hunters resist because of their higher success over bait. Without question, diseases and hunter attitudes will add fuel to Michigan's great bait debate.
What do you think?