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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Michigan Lifts Deer Baiting Ban for Fall Hunting Season

Nearly three years after banning deer-baiting by hunters in the Lower Peninsula, Michigan officials reinstated the controversial practice Thursday night.
Baiting has been illegal since 2008, when chronic wasting disease popped up in a Kent County deer breeding operation. The disease, which causes drastic weight loss in elk and deer, can be fatal and is easily transmitted between animals when they group in small areas.
To prevent that, Michigan's Department of Natural Resources put a stop to hunters using piles of feed such as apples, beets or carrots to lure deer to a spot to shoot. The ban was an unpopular move among many in the hunting community, as well as others who made their livelihoods in the bait business.
A group of farmers and business owners sued the DNR over its decision, but lost in court in October 2008. Thursday's 4-3 decision by the DNR's Natural Resources Commission means baiting will be allowed when deer hunting season rolls around in the fall.
"The DNR's position has been that we don't favor baiting," said Mary Dettloff, the department spokeswoman. "But with the ban now lifted, we request people follow the regulations as they are written."
Hunters will be allowed to place as much as two gallons of bait — covering as much as 10 square feet — on a single spot between Oct. 1 and Jan. 1. The ban, however, will remain in place in Alcona, Alpena, Iosco, Montmorency, Oscoda and Presque Isle counties.
The DNR's decision isn't likely to quell the debate over baiting in the hunting community, which includes about 700,000 registered hunters in Michigan. In 2007, the last full year before the baiting ban was enacted, hunters shot nearly 484,000 deer, according to a DNR report.
Some hunters see baiting as cheating — a way to bag a deer in a short amount of time with minimal effort.
Others see the practice as a means to opening up the sport to more people and generating more revenues for the state.
Those who don't have the time to track deer or plot a hunting strategy can utilize baiting as a means of cutting to the chase, some argue.
The issue is even somewhat cloudy among members of the conservation community. Tony Hansen, deputy director of the Michigan United Conservation Clubs, recently told The Detroit News that his membership was divided on the subject.
Prior to the vote Thursday, New Baltimore resident Brian Powers hoped the ban would remain in place. The 36-year-old real estate agent is a regular hunter in Macomb and St. Clair counties, as well as some areas in Michigan's Thumb.
"My stance has always been that the DNR biologists have made it clear they feel baiting comes with the risk of spreading disease," he said.
"And if those biologists are telling us baiting can mitigate transmission of disease, then we have an obligation to protect the resource by not allowing it. And our deer herd is a natural resource that everyone in the state has a right to enjoy."
With the ban in place, no new reports of chronic wasting disease have been reported among deer in the Lower Peninsula.

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