A bill introduced in the State Senate earlier this year would reverse the ban on deer baiting in Michigan.
The ban went into effect across the Lower Peninsula at the end of January. It’s supposed to stop the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease among the state’s deer herd.
State Sen. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) sponsored the reversal bill.
“[We] really haven’t seen that data that shows that deer baiting spreads Chronic Wasting Disease,” he says.
VanderWall also says the baiting ban will decrease the number of hunters in the state, and that could actually increase CWD in the state’s herd.
“If you have too many deer, the spread of the disease is more widespread,” he explains. “And that’s my concern.”
Chad Stewart disagrees, he's the deer management specialist for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Stewart says they looked at dozens of studies examining the relationship between baiting and the spread of CWD.
“We do believe that baiting and feeding and concentrating animals in that sort of method is conducive to the spread of the disease,” he says.
Currently under the ban, hunters in the Upper Peninsula can still bait deer, and hunters with disabilities can bait statewide under certain conditions – facets of the ban VanderWall is curious about.
“We can’t pick and choose areas,” he says. “There’s just a lot of flaws in the … law that the (Natural Resource Commission) pushed through. I’m pushing back a little bit to make sure that we do things right for the state’s deer herd and hunters.”
Chad Stewart says when the ban was developed, the DNR didn’t know about CWD in the U.P. Around 120 deer with CWD have been found in Michigan, but only one of those has been from the U.P.
Stewart says allowing hunters with disabilities to use bait piles was more of a compromise between the biological impacts and social considerations.
The DNR tested over 30,000 deer, mostly from a 16-county area downstate. Stewart says that data was enough to justify a ban in the entire Lower Peninsula.
“It’s kind of like eating an elephant,” he says. “You need to go a little bit at a time and understand where the disease exists and then start slowly building up your knowledge base elsewhere. Because to do it all at once is just too big of a bite.”
Senator VanderWall says more research needs to be done to justify the ban. The bill has been referred to the Committee on Natural Resources.