What holds greater weight: biological science or social science? That seemed to be the question posed to the state’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) at a Thursday, March 10 meeting as members listened to public testimony on whether the state should continue deer baiting and feeding bans in the Lower Peninsula.
The ban was enacted in 2008 as part of the state’s Emergency Response Plan for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) after the detection of a CWD-positive deer in a privately-owned facility in Kent County.
At that time, the NRC made an informal commitment to review the baiting and feeding ban after allowing the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) three years to test and monitor for CWD.
“In 2008 when the NRC voted to make the baiting ban permanent in the Lower Peninsula, they said they would revisit the issue in three years, allowing the department to test several thousands of deer for CWD,” said NRC Chair Tim Nichols of Fowlerville in a press release. “The result of these public discussions will be an NRC decision on whether to continue, lift or modify the deer baiting and feeding ban.”
The first of these discussions was held on March 10, when the NRC listened to over an hour of testimony from members of the public.
Those favoring the ban mainly cited the threat of CWD and bovine tuberculosis (TB) — both of which are easily spread among animals that are drawn into close physical proximity by feed.
Gordon Wenk, the chief deputy director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture, was one of those who spoke at the hearing in favor of keeping the ban in place — if not in the entire Lower Peninsula than at least in those 11 counties in the northern Lower Peninsula that are “less than bovine TB free.”
“After 15 years of hard work between our two agencies, we are right on the cusp of being able to move a large portion of the state to bovine TB free. If the ban is lifted at this point in time it could have a chilling impact on moving that status forward,” Wenk said.
Ernie Birchmeier, a livestock and dairy specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said he’s not only in support of the ban, but making it statewide. Currently, baiting and feeding are allowed in the Upper Peninsula.
“Especially in this case, it’s imperative and it’s important that you manage that wildlife population on sound science — on sound animal science and veterinary science rather than social science.”
On the other side of the debate, some of those in favor of lifting the ban mentioned that there is not enough enforcement of the ban. They say people continue to bait deer, which makes it unfair for those who follow the rules. They also state that baiting is useful for capturing the interest of younger hunters, as well as retaining current hunters who don’t have the time to track a deer for days.
As one frustrated hunter testified,”I’m really disgusted with hunting because I don’t even see deer anymore.”
The economic aspect of hunting was brought up as some offering testimony pointed out that meat processors, taxidermists, bait shop owners, and even the DNR was losing revenue because of the ban.
Meanwhile, the debate will continue as the NRC plans to hold two more public discussions at their next two meetings, on April 7 and May 12.
Those unable to attend the upcoming NRC meetings can submit written comments on the deer baiting and feeding ban by emailing the DNR at email@example.com.