BISMARCK — Supporters of a bill that would block wildlife officials from banning deer baiting in North Dakota say the main disease the bans are meant to corral isn’t as bad as expected , and maintaining the bans will only diminish access and success for hunters.
But North Dakota Game and Fish Department officials say they won’t get a second chance to tackle the chronic wasting disease if it gets past a certain point.
The disease has accelerated in deer in North Dakota over the past two years. Game and Fish limits baiting – placing food to attract deer to a certain area – in hunting units if they are within 25 miles of a CWD detection area in North Dakota or in a surrounding state or province. Wildlife officials say baiting causes deer to concentrate more closely than they naturally do in winter, which could help spread the disease.
House Bill 1151 would prevent Game and Fish from banning baiting on private land. Proponents of the bill say baiting gives people with busy schedules the opportunity to hunt for short periods of time. It also allows hunters with disabilities to hunt, they argue. The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on the bill on Friday.
DJ Randolph, of Velva, said some of the hunting blinds he used in the Prairie Grit program, which provides sporting opportunities for people with physical and mental developmental disabilities, became nearly useless after implementation of a bait ban.
If every hunter had the same physical ability and had access to quality land, baiting wouldn’t be a problem, “but that’s not the reality,” Randolph said.
He added that the bait bans apply to big game, but not turkey hunting or people who want to view or photograph wildlife.
“Deer can’t really tell the difference between one pile of grain and another,” he says.
Game and Fish began in 2009 to ban baiting in areas where chronic wasting disease was confirmed. By law, the department’s job is to use the best available science to make hunting, trapping and fishing opportunities available now and in the future, according to Casey Anderson, director of the Wildlife Division.
The bill “removes one of the ministry’s tools” to manage a disease that “once contracted is always fatal,” he said.
Game and fish surveys show most hunters trust the department to handle these issues, and license sales have increased since 2009, which Anderson says shows interest isn’t waning.
Outdoor enthusiast Andy Buntrock of Menoken said the ‘hysteria’ around the CWD ‘is similar to other wasteful, heavy government mandates’, which he says have been fueled by ‘frenzy media and federal dollars”.
“There is naturally resistance to this disease,” Buntrock said. “Mother Nature will take care of herself.”
He added: “We are here to restore our freedoms. We want to put the power back in the hands of the athletes. »
Jon Pieper, operations manager at Apple Creek Whitetails in Wisconsin, said deer on the farm benefit from using humic acid as a fertilizer for food plots and as a feed additive. He also told the committee that some deer have genetic resistance to CWD. Some from the farm who tested positive for the disease at a young age lived to be 8 or 9 years old, he said.
“It doesn’t affect deer like people say it does,” Pieper said.
Translating information from an agricultural setting to a wild setting involves “a considerable level of complexity”, wildlife veterinarian Charlie Bahnson told the committee. A deer without the stressors of free range could live longer with neurological disease than a deer in the wild, he said, but added “Clearly the time starts spinning” when a deer is infected.
The state’s bait ban is consistent with those used in other states, Bahnson said. Chronic wasting disease was first seen in Colorado – where baiting is not allowed – in the 1980s. The disease is still “pretty hot” in the northwest corner of that state, with infection rates of up to 33% in mule deer. It’s worrying, Bahnson said, but “it took 45 years to get there.”
In the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, where baiting is permitted, the first cases were found in captive elk in 1997 and then in wild deer a year or two later. Today, some areas have infection rates of 80 to 90 percent in mule deer, according to Bahnson.
“Saskatchewan has taken a do nothing approach. Baiting is part of the hunting culture there, it was never controlled, and that’s the result they got,” he said.
Elgin rancher Keith Payne said removing Game and Fish’s banning ability would have ‘serious consequences’ not just for wildlife, but also for sheep and cattle that come into contact with animals wild. He transported many deer carcasses from his hay land and crop land, which is in the hunting unit where chronic wasting disease was first discovered in the state.
“These sick deer are drinking from the same water tanks and eating from the same bales as our livestock,” he said. “It makes no sense to take away Game and Fish’s ability to help manage our wildlife.”
The committee took no immediate action.
This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of information to our readers. Learn learn more about the information services used by the FCC here.