DNR takes a stand: don't feed the deer

June 19, 2002 Capital Times (Madison, WI) by Tim Eisele
It's about time.

The Department of Natural Resources finally has decided that it is time to take a leadership position and recommend the end to baiting and feeding of deer.

The DNR deserves praise for its quick actions to try to eliminate all the deer in the chronic wasting disease (CWD) eradication zone in southwestern Wisconsin, for assembling a task force of specialists from several state agencies to fight CWD, and for consulting with veterinarians from western states to learn from their experience.

The DNR has tough decisions to make without a lot of scientific evidence regarding CWD and white-tailed deer. However, the DNR's foot-dragging on the question of baiting and feeding has been abysmal. State biologists will privately bemoan the lack of leadership of the agency when it comes to baiting and feeding of deer.

The fact is that dumping a pile of agricultural products concentrates deer, making it much easier for nose-to-nose contact among animals which promotes the spread of disease. This is particularly true with bovine tuberculosis (TB, which currently is present in Michigan), but has not been proven to be the cause of the spread of CWD.

Artificial feeding also contributes to artificially high deer populations, which takes a toll in increased numbers of deer/vehicle accidents and decreased regeneration of oaks and other vegetation.

Baiting is the practice of putting out apples, corn, sweet potatoes and other agricultural products by hunters in an attempt to draw deer into range. Baiting, which is illegal for hunting waterfowl and most other species, allows hunters to rely less on woodsmanship and hunting skills, and instead kill a deer which has come in close to eat.

The DNR has not had authority to put any restrictions on feeding deer until recently, when the legislature passed a new law allowing the DNR to regulate feeding through June 2004. But the DNR has had the authority to regulate baiting of deer and has failed to do it previously.

Mark Toso, president of the Wisconsin Deer Hunters Association, bemoaned the DNR's lack of leadership at a special joint meeting of the Wisconsin Legislature's natural resources committees in May to address CWD. Toso underscored the comments of specialists who presented testimony at the Natural Resources Board's Special Committee on Baiting and Feeding in 2001.

Toso reiterated a Michigan DNR expert's comments that baiting and feeding do not cause TB in deer, but that they are conducive to spreading diseases.

He also cited Dr. Clarence Siroky, veterinarian for the Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP), who said that any amount of baiting and feeding elevates the risk of disease.

But rather than listen to these experts, Toso said the NRB Special Committee on Baiting and Feeding listened to people such as Sen. Kevin Shibilski (D-Stevens Point and a licensed hunting guide), who said there was no benefit to the reduction in baiting, for health reasons, and that a reduction simply would be a compromise to a vocal minority in the state.

"Then we have Natural Resource Board Chairman Trig Solberg, who sells truckloads of deer corn at his three grocery stores in northern Wisconsin," Toso said. "Mr. Solberg continues to resist any restrictions on deer baiting and feeding. This is obviously a huge conflict of interest and an outrage to hunters and citizens of Wisconsin."

Toso also was amazed that, faced with losing the entire deer herd, it seems there still are people willing to put their self-interests above everything else.

"It's about time to do what's best for the resource," Toso said. "We need to take drastic actions to limit the spread of CWD and, from what I've heard, that involves ending all deer baiting and feeding statewide, and drastically reducing the deer population in the endemic area."

Besides health concerns, there are a host of sportsmanship and ethical concerns involving baiting. Although some see no problem with baiting, but others see it as a very questionable practice.

Is it really ethical to shoot a deer that is lured in to actual food, as compared to a hunter's artificial calls/rattling or artificial decoys? Whether it was because the DNR saw no reason to take steps to reduce baiting, or it was pressured by sportsmen who condone baiting, or it felt pressure from its own Natural Resources Board, the DNR failed to act previously.

It now has decided that it is time to act, and the DNR is recommending that baiting for any hunting -- other than bear hunting -- be banned statewide and that feeding be prohibited where feed is accessible to deer statewide. The rule would continue to allow feeding of birds and small mammals.

The DNR is late in making the recommendation, but it is the right recommendation. The DNR should always place more importance on the resource than the resource user.

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