The Michigan Department of Natural Resources commission is considering dropping the ban on baiting and feeding of deer. This spring it has allowed the public to have their say about the matter during the DNR commission’s regular meetings. The opinions were pretty evenly divided between wanting baiting and not wanting baiting. The DNR will decide soon.
The ban on baiting began in 2008 after a deer in a captive breeding program tested positive for chronic wasting disease (CWD). There was also a bovine TB problem in the wild deer herd a few years previously. But it was also enacted because biologists and wildlife management personnel advised that was the best way to manage overly abundant deer herds.
If passed, the new rules will allow hunters to spread 2 gallons of bait scattered over 10 square feet in one spot from October 1 to January 1. It would also allow people to spread 2 gallons of feed per day on their own property, within 100 yards of a dwelling so they can watch the deer. (That’s a great provision, within 100 yards. That will surely mean that the deer will move on to the home landscape plants next to feed. And people that feed deer deserve that).
In addition to allowing baiting again however there would be stricter and bigger fines on people who don’t obey the rules. And there would still be a ban on baiting in some counties where bovine TB was in the deer herd. Counties, cities and townships could also ban baiting within their jurisdiction. Baiting is now banned in 27 states and provinces and places where it is not banned generally do not have high whitetail populations.
When the baiting ban went into effect many people were simply furious, both the lazy, impatient hunters who knew no other way to hunt deer and the people who sold them the bait feeds. Things have quieted down a bit, but you still have people who feel very strongly about the issue on both sides.
Why the DNR commission is bowing to pressure, and going against all advice from wildlife biologists is interesting. If looked at other than from what’s best for the deer, there are some advantages to allowing baiting, which need to be weighed against the disadvantages. Most of these are economic advantages, and do not consider deer welfare.
When baiting was banned some hunters lost interest in going hunting. If there was no quick, easy gratification then why bother. Hunters spend money in many small Michigancommunities, usually in local bars and restaurants, and they buy a lot of hunting equipment and clothes. Fewer hunters mean less dollars in retail sales and it also means fewer hunters buying hunting licenses.
The money from hunting licenses goes to support wildlife management programs and helps pay the salary of DNR employees. Anything then that drops revenue has to be re-considered and there is some real validity in trying to attract more hunters. The other side of that argument is that allowing baiting greatly increases the chances of a serious disease problem to develop in deer herds. Illnesses like CWD, which, if they get into the deer herd would probably result in no hunting at all.
So if we allow baiting we will get a lot of the lazy hunters back, who want to get a deer first thing in the morning over a bait pile so they can head back to town and support the local economy. On the other hand we could have hunting ended in Michiganfor a while except for sharp shooters eliminating the herd then stacking the bodies and burning them.
We know that deer that eat unnatural foods in the fall hunting season change their behavior patterns and their normal winter feeding patterns get interrupted. After hunting season ends and the bait stops many deer can’t find enough natural feed in the area they have concentrated in and they suffer starvation. Their guts haven’t adjusted to eating browse instead of energy rich foods and it takes more to sustain them. They die in greater numbers, which helps restore the deer population to sustainable numbers.
The downside to the “after the baiting is over hungry time” is that the deer tend to destroy millions of dollars of landscaping and eat millions of dollars of hay and livestock feeds, mingling with livestock and potentially passing disease to them. If a livestock disease like bovine TB occurs it could mean the ruin of many livestock operations and cost billions in losses in farm revenue. Just the fact that the DNR is contemplating lifting the ban has the USDA reconsidering how it will classify Michiganlivestock, and how meat /livestock can be sold.
If diseases like CWD or TB spread in the deer herd the state would be forced to pursue many expensive remedies such as herd eradications of livestock and deer, testing and vaccination programs for livestock and much money spent in educating the public on why poor Bambi needs to be rounded up and killed, as well as why meat has become so expensive.
A flush of energy rich food in the fall from baiting and feeding promotes twin and triplet births in the spring. More deer, not exactly what the state needs, especially in the areas where baiting and feeding is most likely to take place. But nature always tends to balance itself.
When the population of deer gets so big the deer can’t get enough food, even if they consume all the shrubbery in suburbia, they’ll start dying. And by that time more of people will be tired of the deaths caused by car-deer accidents, the huge amounts of money spent on repairing deer damaged property and crazed deer jumping through windows and drowning in swimming pools. People will be calling for a year round deer season or for the government to “do something.”
Deer bait is a windfall for some farmers. Maybe we could put a tax on all that deer bait being sold and store the revenue for the day when drastic herd reductions will be necessary or to repay people for deer damages.
The DNR is also considering planting food plots on state land to support more deer and make it easier on hunters who haven’t learned how to track deer. They’ll just need to drive to the nearest food plot and wait. The downside of that is all the bullets flying from all sides of the food plot and hunters fighting over “prime spots”. Plus of course, more deer would be concentrated in one area damaging the state land we all own.
So here’s a better plan. Why doesn’t the state just fence some areas, pile bait in them and shut the deer in when they are used to eating there. Sell the “hunters” a harvest license and let them in a few at a time. Maybe we could allow tourists to feed and tame the deer during the non- hunting months, charge money for little cones of corn like in a petting zoo. That would make the deer easy to kill and hunters eager to buy licenses and it would sell more bait! Real hunters could still take to the woods and bag a deer the professional way.
We could place those pens everywhere there is a deer population too large for the area, which means there would be lots of them in Southern Michiganso people wouldn’t need to spend much on gas to drive to a hunting site. And the hunters could get to the bars and restaurants faster to celebrate and spend money.
Just think of the economic advantage penned, tame, fattened deer could garner. Pure Michiganads could show kids feeding the deer, and then hunters lined up shooting at deer eating piles of carrots and corn. The script could read “every hunter bags a deer in Michigan”
The only good thing about lifting the ban on deer baiting is that it will result in fewer deer. And that may be just what the DNR is thinking. The deer herd is out of control, hunting is declining and baiting just may be the short term fix.