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I support removal of the ban on baiting in 2011


Dear Woods-N-Water News:

Here's a copy of a letter I sent to the Natural Resources Commission today about deer baiting and it includes some new information:

In view of the fact that no cases of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) have been detected in any wild deer in Michigan during three years of testing and the use of baiting for deer hunting in the entire Lower Peninsula (LP) was banned due to concern some free ranging whitetails in the state might be infected with the disease, I support removal of the ban on baiting in 2011, with the understanding that bait be limited to no more than two gallons per location per day and that bait be spread over an area of at least 100 square feet.

In my opinion, Deer Management Unit (DMU) 452 in the northeastern LP (the TB Zone) should also be reopened in 2011 to baiting in quantities of one or two gallons per day because there is no documentation that tuberculosis (TB) is or has been transmitted between deer by regulated baiting. TB prevalence rates among deer in 452 have remained fairly constant for a number of years even though baiting has been banned in that DMU since 2002. What is known about regulated baiting in 452, based on a survey of hunters that the DNR completed after one gallon of bait was legal for deer hunting in that unit during the fall of 2001 (Wildlife Division Report #3372; Deer Baiting in the Northeast Lower Peninsula of Michigan) is that hunters who used bait had a much higher rate of success than those who didn't, more hunters hunted in 452 when baiting was legal and they hunted more days.

According to that report, bowhunters who used bait in 452 during 2001 had a 41 percent rate of success compared to 13 percent success for those who did not. Among firearms hunters, those who used bait had a 51 percent success rate compared to 37 percent for those who did not. Among the hunters who were surveyed 21 percent of bowhunters and 12 percent of gun hunters avoided hunting in 452 when baiting was not legal. Fifty-one percent of archers and 31 percent of firearm hunters reported that they hunted the area less when baiting was illegal.

More deer have to be consistently harvested from 452 to reduce the prevalence rate of TB. The way to do that is to increase hunting pressure and success. Allowing regulated baiting is clearly the way to do that.

Recent changes in regulations that made firearms deer licenses valid for antlerless deer in 452 and that restricted combination deer licenses to bucks with at least three points on one antler may have further discouraged hunting effort in that unit rather than increased it, thereby reducing the deer harvest and potentially increasing the prevalence rate of TB. Most hunters in that unit were already resistant to using the liberal quota of antlerless tags that were available for that unit. Making more tags valid for antlerless deer would be of little benefit.

If baiting is legalized in 452, it would be important to return one of the tags on combo licenses to being unrestricted, meaning any buck with three-inch spikes or better would be legal, to maximize the harvest of both bucks and does.

At this point, I want to further clarify my comment about no documentation that regulated baiting is or has been responsible for transmitting TB between deer. This is counter to statements in DNR literature claiming, matter of factly, that baiting spreads TB, but there are no facts to support that statement. It has been a theory that baiting is responsible for transmitting TB among deer, and it remains speculation.

All efforts to culture TB bacteria at baiting and/or feeding sites, including those in an enclosure where the prevalence rate was as high as 12 percent, have failed. Dr. Mitch Palmer at the National Animal Disease Lab in Ames, Iowa has also been unable to culture TB bacteria from the saliva and mucous of deer that are known to have TB. He said whitetails have so many different types of bacteria in their mouths and noses that it complicates the process. The interaction between these different types of bacteria may, in fact, render the bacteria that cause TB harmless in the natural environment. It's also known that exposure to sunlight kills TB bacteria.

The only way TB has been transmitted between deer and from deer to cattle, either through direct contact or contaminated food is in carefully controlled experiments in sterile, enclosed environments during which artificially high doses of TB bacteria have been introduced. No experiments have been conducted that mimic conditions in the wild. In a study done at Michigan State University, large does of TB bacteria were placed outside in a fenced enclosure to expose the bacteria to varying weather conditions, but the bacteria were contained in sealed jars, eliminating any opportunity for contamination by other bacteria in the environment.

The fact that TB persists in deer 452 in the absence of baiting is clear evidence that direct contact between deer is the primary means of transmission. Transmission between infected does and their fawns is most likely, but repeated contact between siblings throughout their lives through mutual grooming and unrelated bucks in bachelor groups through the same process. The reason adult bucks have the highest prevalence rate of TB, in my opinion, is due to their direct contact with urine from numerous does during the breeding season. Bucks actually lick or taste the urine from does to determine their readiness to breed. That's obviously a risky behavior in an area such as 452 where disease is known to exist and does are known to pass TB bacteria in their urine.

And there's more evidence that baiting is most likely not responsible for spreading TB between deer. When baiting was first banned in 452, there was a lot of resistance to the regulation due to how it was implemented, resulting in 50 to 60 percent noncompliance. In spite of the fact baiting was still common in 452 during 1999 and 2000, the prevalence rate of the disease either remained close to the same or declined. A reduction in deer numbers played a role in that, but if baiting were the culprit it is supposed to be in the spread of disease, the prevalence rate should have increased.

Sincerely,

Richard P. Smith


March 30, 2011

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