ESCANABA - Last week the Michigan Natural Resources Commission moved forward in changing the interim order banning the use of bait for deer hunting in the Lower Peninsula.
The order came in August when a single doe was found to be infected with Chronic Wasting disease (CWD), and MDNR Director Becky Humphries issued a directive to ban the use of bait in the LP. As such, the order could only be enforced for up to six months and would expire Feb. 26, 2009.
That would give the MDNR time to continue and perhaps complete their investigation to the extent of contamination via the trace tracking against the infested captive cervid facility. So then why extend the ban?
In a statement issued by Mary Dettloff from the MDNR, "Between September 1 and October 4 of this year, the MDNR issued 102 tickets for illegal baiting in the Lower Peninsula.
"Calls to the Report All Poaching (RAP) Line on illegal baiting are 34.6 percent of the calls being received. This is up from 11.3 percent in 2007, however the only baiting restrictions then were in the Bovine TB Zone."
The MDNR Law Enforcement Division Bi-Weekly Field Report from Sept. 21 - Oct. 4 reflect 28 cases of bait violations, all in the Lower Peninsula. There were four found in the Upper Peninsula but those were primarily over bear baiting violations.
Some wonder if the NRC pushed the extension to the ban due to the "in your face" attitude by some of those violators.
Others, including farmers and bait sellers, questioned the authority of the NRC to implement the ban and sued to overthrow the ban, saying it was arbitrary, wouldn't work and would cause severe economic harm.
Michigan Farm Bureau projection that the bait produce part of the Michigan Agricultural Industry totals $30 million to $50 million annually. That represents an average of only two percent of the overall $2 billion produced annually by farmers who grow crops for market consumption.
It does not equate the losses by some farmers experiencing damage to crops by wildlife.
On Oct. 9, Ingham County Circuit Judge Joyce Draganchuk reviewed arguments from all sides and acknowledged there will be an impact on those people who earn a living by growing and selling the bait.
She did however reiterate the MDNR did base its decision on "sound scientific management principles. It did it for the purpose of preserving the deer and elk herd so that those who make their living from it may continue to do so in the future."
Those contending the ban feel the arguments it would stop the disease from spreading were "vastly overblown" as stated by the plaintiffs attorney Ed McNeely.
MDNR Commissioner John Madigan stated that after listening to the presentations from Michigan biologists and veterinarians, including one from the state of Colorado where CWD was first discovered, "we had no other choice but to continue the ban beyond the interim order."
The strategy of banning feeding and baiting was actually part of a plan that was adopted six years ago when the Michigan CWD Reaction Plan was adopted by the MDNR/NRC.
It clearly stated that if CWD was found within 50 miles of an adjacent state, baiting and feeding would be banned in that peninsula. According to MDNR Wildlife Chief Russ Mason, the disease found in Kent County also showed business relationships with facilities in 11 other counties in the Lower Peninsula.
No disease has been discovered in any of these places but there is a problem with record keeping in some.
Former deer research biologist John Ozoga now spends most of his time as an outdoors writer, specializing on deer issues. He commended the MDNR action and stated, "They are obliged to do anything in their power to prevent this disease from establishing here."
Now some wonder if the next target for shutdown of baiting and feeding will be the UP.
There is concern about the 50 mile radius from Wisconsin as CWD is present in that state's free ranging deer. The year the disease was first discovered, the Wisconsin DNR found there was at least one hunting license issued from every county in the state in the contaminated area.
It is fair to assume that the same bans would go into effect if CWD is found along the UP border.
The impact here, should a baiting and feeding ban be implemented, would be much greater on the herd than in the LP, due to the fact supplemental feeding is used in the high snow country to support the survival of a base population of deer during the usual harsh northern winters.