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Lawmakers unhappy with deer baiting ban

Three Upper Peninsula state lawmakers spoke out Friday against the Michigan Natural Resources Commission’s decision a day earlier to ban deer baiting and feeding in parts of Dickinson, Menominee and Delta counties to slow the potential spread of chronic wasting disease.

The ban, effective immediately, drew sharp criticism from state Rep. Beau LaFave of Iron Mountain, who said of the move, “It’s clear that these people are unaware of the impact these policies have on our freedoms and our economy.”

In a joint statement released Friday, LaFave said, “I am sick and tired of downstate knuckleheads trying to outlaw our U.P way of life. These do-gooder environmentalists — who have never lived in the U.P. or hunted here — continue to pass rule after rule that makes life here difficult.”

The statement also included state Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan and state Rep. Greg Markkanen of Hancock. All three are Republicans.

The NRC set the ban Thursday for the Core CWD Surveillance Area in the Upper Peninsula, which covers about 660 square miles that includes most of the southern half of Dickinson County, much of northwestern Menominee County and a small portion of Delta County around Bark River.

The roughly 10-mile-radius zone is bordered by U.S. 2, M-95 and the Menominee River on the west; M-69 from Randville to Bark River on the north; and U.S. 41/U.S. 2 and Menominee County Road G18 on the south.

The move comes after a 4-year-old doe killed in September on a deer damage shooting permit in Dickinson County’s Waucedah Township tested positive for chronic wasting disease. It was the first documented CWD case in the Upper Peninsula, though the disease has been confirmed downstate in Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent and Montcalm counties. In addition, 26 Wisconsin counties have recorded wild CWD-positive deer, with another seven having farm-raised CWD cases, including in Florence and Marinette counties.

The CWD case in Dickinson County was only 4 miles from the Menominee River boundary with Wisconsin, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources official said.

DNR testing on 1,745 deer in the U.P.’s Core CWD Surveillance Area, however, found no additional positives, officials said.

While acknowledging the baiting and feeding ban will make hunting more difficult, the long-term goal is to reduce deer exposure to the protein that causes CWD by not drawing deer to feed in the same spots, said Terry Minzey, DNR regional wildlife supervisor for the Upper Peninsula.

The aberrant protein, or prion, that triggers CWD can be passed through deer urine, droppings, saliva and other deer bodily fluids, Minzey said. It also can linger in the soil where infected deer have fed or where deer bones or other parts have been discarded after carcasses were processed, he said.

CWD can afflict deer, elk and moose, attacking the brain of an infected animal and producing small lesions that result in death. There is no cure or treatment, according to the DNR.

“By taking these steps, we’re not eliminating the potential for this disease, but we’re reducing the exposure,” Minzey said.

He pointed to Wisconsin as an example of what can happen if strict action isn’t taken to stop the spread. According to the Wisconsin DNR, the CWD monitoring area in the western part of the state has seen CWD prevalence rise above 35 percent in mature bucks — some spots have about half the mature bucks testing positive, Minzey said — and to 15 percent in the adult females.

LaFave, however, argued the economic cost would be too high, given that many small businesses in the U.P. sell deer bait to hunters. A recent study published by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs showed Michigan’s 700,000 hunters and 1.1 million anglers brought more than $11 billion in economic activity to Michigan and support more than 170,000 jobs in the state, according to the lawmakers’ joint statement.

“This ban will negatively impact most of Delta and Dickinson counties and some of Menominee, while providing little assurance that we can stop the spread of CWD in the U.P.,” Markkanen said. “This ban was put in place because a single deer found in the area tested positive for CWD. We should be inviting hunters into our land to help us manage the deer population to contain the spread, not suggesting they find somewhere else to go.”

Markkanen also noted that banning baiting unfairly affects disabled hunters who rely on using bait. But the ban allows an exception for hunters with disabilities during the Liberty and Independence hunts, when those who qualify can use 2 gallons at a time of single-bite baits during deer seasons. The deer baiting start date for these hunters can occur five days before and during the second Saturday in September, according to the DNR.

McBroom, who is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee in the state Senate, said he pushed to have the NRC meet in the Upper Peninsula before making a decision on the ban.

“I am concerned that the commission did not take into full account the public comments offered by local residents. It would have been helpful to have a hearing in the area that will be affected by the ban,” McBroom said in Friday’s joint statement. “I am further concerned that the ban was enacted this year instead of waiting a year and I look forward to working on implementing a sunset for this new policy.”

A bill already had been introduced that, if approved and signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, would restore baiting and feeding.

“In my view, baiting is a tool that helps us manage the herd,” the main sponsor of Senate Bill 37, Republican state Sen. Curt VanderWall of Ludington, told the Natural Resources Committee in April. “Less hunters means less harvested, which is bad for herd management — it could even lead to an increase in CWD and other diseases.”

While baiting and feeding are banned, property owners still can maintain food plots and apple trees that attract deer, said Bill Scullon, DNR field operations manager for the Upper Peninsula region.

The NRC on Thursday also eliminated antler point restrictions in the Core CWD Surveillance Area in the Upper Peninsula — bucks now need only have antlers 3 inches or better; reinstated the antlerless option during archery deer season for those hunting on the Deer License or Deer Combo License in areas open to antlerless licenses; and allowed crossbows to be used in the late archery season in the core CWD area.

The commission is a seven-member public body whose members are appointed by the governor. The commission has exclusive authority to regulate the taking of game and sportfish and is authorized to designate game species.

The public will have an opportunity in the region next week to hear about the new regulations, when the DNR’s Western Citizens Advisory Council meets from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Central time Thursday in the Turtle Room of the Island Convention Center, W399 U.S. 2 in Harris.

CWD first was discovered in Michigan in a free-ranging deer in May 2015. To date, more than 60,000 deer in Michigan have been tested for CWD and it has been confirmed in 120 free-ranging deer in the state.

More information about the new deer hunting and baiting regulations will be posted in next week to the Michigan.gov/CWD webpage. Questions can be directed to the DNR Wildlife Division by emailing to DNR-Wildlife@michigan.gov or by phone at 517-284-9453.

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