ESCANABA - A lot of the general citizenry of Michigan aren't aware of the legal process under which government branch agencies work. Like most, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) has a litany of statutory requirements, established by the legislature, that provide absolute direction on policy.
The feeding of wildlife, and in particular, the winter feeding of whitetail deer is just such a case.
Under the natural resources and environmental protection act PA451 of 1994, the Michigan Legislature established a directive in 1999 under Section 40111a that ordered the Natural Resources Commission to first consult the commission of agriculture and then issue an order concerning deer and elk feeding in the state.
The law gave permission to the MDNR to regulate the means of artificial feeding of wildlife (deer and elk) that includes baiting, supplemental feeding and recreational feeding statewide. It included a proviso that limited the term of the law, requiring renewal by the legislature after a period of years. That term is scheduled to end January 1, 2010 and if not acted upon this month, the permitted winter feeding of deer in the northern tier of the Upper Peninsula would be banned.
House Bill 5380 (HB5380) was introduced September 17 with the intent to amend the law and extend the feeding criteria to the year 2016. The bill was originally sponsored by U.P. legislators Mike Lahti, Gary McDowell and Steve Lindberg. Lahti's amendment H3 also "tweaked" parts of the law to better define "do's and don'ts" within the same criteria.
Upon the outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) in Wisconsin, the MDNR worked with the Department of Agriculture (MDA) to develop a Surveillance and Response Plan for CWD in 2002. Included within the plan, which then became an order, was language that "heightened surveillance, restrictions on movement of carcasses of free-ranging deer, and restrictions on baiting and feeding of free-ranging cervids (deer and elk) that will apply to areas surrounding any CWD positive deer, while a ban on rehabilitation of deer will be enforced statewide."
Former MDNR Director K.L. Cool and former MDA Director Dan Wyant signed the order into effect August of 2002. Contained within the CWD Plan was a clause that shut down any extra-curricular feeding with the exception of recreational feeding, in the entire peninsula, upon the discovery of CWD within that peninsula and/or 50 miles of the border of a peninsula. To date, the Lower Peninsula has been shut down since the finding of a diseased deer at a private captive cervid facility in the Grand Rapids area.
HB5380 was expected to sail through the House until amendments to the basic bill were introduced, one which if attached would have lifted the CWD Plan, by law, and set new standards that would have in effect potentially re-opened the LP for feeding. The amendment H4, was sponsored by Rep. Joel Sheltron and, to me, has a lot of merit given the fact seven years of the current CWD plan have shown no spread of the disease and new science finds indicate the transmission vector of CWD is now better understood.
Unfortunately, H4 was submitted to the Natural Resources Committee the day of the hearing and supporters of the original bill did not offer support. Debate ensued and did garner testimony in support offered by the Beaver Island Wildlife Club, the Hartwick Township Sportmen's Club (Osceola County), the M65 Bait Shop, the Michigan Wildlife and Business Association, the UAW-GM Lansing Area Employees Oldsmobile Club and the UP Sportsmens Alliance.
Those who argued for HB5380-H3 were the MDNR, U.P./NRC Commissioners John Madigan and J.R. Richardson, the MDA represented by State Veterinarian Doctor Steve Halstead, the Michigan United Conservation Clubs and Chelsea Rod & Gun Club and the Michigan Farm Bureau.
By Wednesday the bill, now transferred for consideration by the Senate has passed through committee without amendment and was to be placed on the floor for vote Thursday, expected to be carried all the way for final passage.
What is upsetting is some media have unfairly reported that the U.P. legislators and NRC commissioners have gone against the U.P. in not supporting the H4 amendment.
The fact is given the bill (HB5380-H3) as passed by the House and hopefully by the Senate and goes to the Governor for signing, we retain the ability to provide winter feeding in the north, by law, to the year 2016. As such, we have lost no ground and can work to expedite change. If it fails, all bets are off and we start over from scratch at a time when deer are potentially in distress.
The leadership of the UPSA recognizes this and will let the current legislation run its course. The extended law, if passed, also leaves the jurisdiction of regulating what, where and when to feed, and the reconsideration of the CWD Surveillance and Response Plan that may very well incorporate the provisions of H4, all within the MDNR/NRC and Agriculture Commission.
It is reported MUCC will support the UPSA "Emergency Feeding Plan" submitted to the NRC at their October meeting and will join with them before the NRC in January, again provided the extension was granted.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.