SB-37 would override the DNR/NRC decision to ban feeding and baiting of deer…

Senator Curtis Vanderwall introduced legislation (SB-37) that would take away the authority of the DNR/NRC to regulate baiting and feeding of deer in Michigan.

This year the DNR/NRC made sweeping regulation changes banning the use of bait for deer. They even banned recreational feeding of deer in all of the Lower Peninsula. They are also considering expansion of that ban in the U.P. too. These unpopular new laws were enacted to possibly help prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Michigan’s deer herd. Many hunters, me included, feel that this baiting ban was a knee-jerk reaction to the problem was not thought through.

In a recent DNR poll, the clear majority (71%) of Michigan’s deer hunters still either support or strongly support the use of bait for hunting deer. So this new law that the DNR/NRC decreed was enacted despite widespread public disapproval. The logic for the law is questionable too since the science on CWD does not support such baiting bans as having ever worked elsewhere in other states where tried. There are many negative consequences for a baiting and feeding ban too that the DNR failed to consider.

Wisconsin’s DNR enacted a total baiting/feeding ban after they discovered CWD there in 2002. That year firearm deer hunter numbers fell by 11 percent and archery hunters dropped by 13 percent as a direct result of the baiting ban. That represents a net loss of millions of dollars in just license revenue for the state not even counting other ancillary income lost in the process. The real bummer though was a huge drop in the deer kill in 2002 with firearm hunters killing 40 percent fewer deer and archers taking a whopping 47 percent less deer. This was at a time when the Wisconsin DNR was trying to lower overpopulated deer numbers, so the baiting ban really backfired on those efforts and certainly made matters worse. Michigan’s main reason for implementing the baiting ban is to combat disease, but how can a bigger deer herd as a result of fewer deer being killed in the most populated areas help that goal?

In 2003 the Wisconsin legislature stepped in and overrode the DNR’s baiting ban with a new law governing the practice similar to what Michigan’s SB 37 is trying to accomplish. With baiting legal again, it didn’t take long for hunter numbers to recover and for success rates to jump back up once again too. Even with CWD in Wisconsin, many hunters feel that they still have some of the best deer hunting in the country today and still lead the record books in many categories too.

There are other consequences to worry about with a baiting ban besides a huge drop in hunter numbers, lost DNR revenue, and a decline in the deer kill. Michigan businesses stand to lose millions of dollars as a result of the ban. Bait producers, wholesalers and retailers will be hit hard with many going out of business as a result. Many jobs and livelihoods will be lost and for little if any gain. General sporting goods sales associated with deer hunting will also take a huge loss too. Every business that depends on deer hunters for income will feel the pinch. Even agriculture will get hit: Not only from a loss of income from bait sales, but also from more deer eating their crops too. Vehicle/deer accidents are also sure to increase with fewer deer being killed, so virtually all Michigan residents that drive the roads could be impacted.

The loss of hunters and a lower deer kill will make herds balloon in the milder snow areas of the state, but a loss of baiting and especially winter feeding in the big snow country will have just the opposite impact and could have tragic consequences on the deer herd during hard winters there, especially in the U.P. There are many places in the U.P. where a loss of supplemental feeding would virtually wipe out the entire deer herd. Deer numbers are depressed enough in most of the U.P., so a further decline due to a feeding ban would be catastrophic and would result in far more deer being lost than CWD would ever claim.

Because the majority of deer hunters in Michigan use bait, a baiting ban will ultimately turn thousands of normally law abiding hunters into violators. A baiting ban will create a lot of strife and discontent among hunters too lowering the majority of hunter’s satisfaction rate to a new, low level. Even hunters like me that don’t depend on baiting to kill deer can see that this was a bad idea and support SB 37. As I write this, SB 37 is scheduled for senate hearings on April 10 and April 16, 2019. If you have an opinion on this bill, then please consider contacting your legislators and the governor.