Bait Ban Opponents, Wildlife Officials Debate Bill to Ban Ban – InForum

BISMARK — Supporters of a bill that would prevent wildlife officials from banning deer hunting in North Dakota say the main disease meant to ban deer hunting is not as bad as thought, and that maintaining the ban will only impair hunter access and success .

But North Dakota fish and game officials argue they won’t get a second chance to combat chronic wasting disease if it gets past a certain point.

The disease has been accelerating in North Dakota deer in the past two years. Restrict game and fish baiting—the placement of food to attract deer to a specific area—to hunting units if they are located within 25 miles of a CWD spotting area in North Dakota or a surrounding state or county. Wildlife officials say the bait causes deer to concentrate more than they normally would in the winter, which could increase the spread of disease.

House Bill 1151 would have prevented Game and Fish from banning baiting on private land. Supporters of the bill say that baiting gives people with busy schedules an opportunity to seek out short periods of time. It also gives anglers with disabilities an opportunity to fish, they said. The House Energy and Natural Resources Committee heard testimony on the bill on Friday.

DJ Randolph, of Velva, said some of the fishing blinds he used for the Prairie Grit program, which provides sporting opportunities for people with physical and mental developmental disabilities, were rendered nearly useless after a bait ban was imposed.

If every fisherman had the same physical ability and access to good land, Randolph said, bait wouldn’t be a problem, “but that’s not the reality.”

He added that the ban on baiting applied to big game animals, not turkey hunting or people who wanted to watch or photograph wildlife.

“The deer don’t really know the difference between one heap of grain and another,” he said.

Game and Fish in 2009 began banning baits in areas where CWD was confirmed. The department’s job, by law, is to use the best available science to enable hunting, trapping and fishing opportunities now and in the future, according to Wildlife Director Casey Anderson.

Andy Bontrock, R-Menokin, testifies before the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hearing Jan. 20, 2023 in the Capitol on a bill related to banning deer hunting.

Andy Bontrock, R-Menokin, testifies before the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a hearing Jan. 20, 2023 in the Capitol on a bill related to banning deer hunting.

Darren Gibbins/Bismarck Tribune

He said the bill “removes one of the department’s tools” for managing a disease that “once contracted is always fatal.”

Game and fish surveys show that most anglers trust management to handle such matters, and license sales have increased since 2009, which Anderson said shows interest is not waning.

Outdoor enthusiast Andy Bontrock, of Menokin, said the “hysteria” about CWD “is similar to other unnecessary and heavy-handed mandates by the government,” which he said is fueled by “media frenzy and federal dollars.”

“There is a natural resistance to this disease,” Bontrock said. “Mother Nature will take care of herself.”

He added, “We are here to take back our freedoms. We want to put the power back in the hands of the athletes.”

The deer on the farm have benefited from the use of humic acid as a food fertilizer and as a feed additive, said John Pepper, operations manager for Apple Creek Whitetails in Wisconsin. He also told the committee that some deer have genetic resistance to CWD. He said some on the farm who tested positive for the disease at an early age lived to be 8 or 9 years old.

“It doesn’t affect deer like people say,” Pieper said.

Translating information from the farm environment to the wild environment involves a “significant level of complexity,” said Charlie Bahnson, the committee’s game, fish and wildlife veterinarian. He said deer that don’t experience free-range stressors may live longer with neurological disease than deer in the wild, but added, “It’s quite clear that the clock starts ticking” when deer become infected.

Bahnson said the state’s ban on the bait is consistent with those used in other states. CWD was first seen in Colorado – where baiting is not allowed – in the 1980s. The disease is still “very hot” in that state’s northwest corner, with infection rates as high as 33% in mule bulls. This is troubling, 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 80-90% infection rates in mule deer bucks, according to Bahnson.

“Saskatchewan has taken a do-nothing approach. Trapping has been part of the hunting culture there, it has never been controlled, and that’s the result they got.”

Elgin Rancher Keith Payne said withdrawing the ban’s ability from Game and Fish would have “dire consequences” not only for wildlife but for sheep and cattle that come into contact with wild animals. He has taken several deer carcasses from his land and croplands, which are located in the hunting unit where CWD was first discovered in the state.

“These sick deer drink from the same water tanks and eat from the same bales as our cattle,” he said. “It makes no sense to take away the ability of Game and Fish to help manage our wildlife.”

The committee took no immediate action.


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