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Residents react to deer baiting ban

A Michigan white-tailed buck is shown. The Michigan Natural Resources Commission decided to ban deer baiting and feeding in part of the central Upper Peninsula earlier this week. State Rep. Beau LaFave and representatives of local wildlife groups expressed concerns related to this decision. (Photo courtesy of Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

ESCANABA — The Michigan Natural Resources Commission decided to ban deer baiting and feeding in part of the central Upper Peninsula earlier this week. State Rep. Beau LaFave and representatives of local wildlife groups expressed concerns related to this decision.

The decision was made in response to the discovery of a case of chronic wasting disease in the area. According to a DNR press release, a doe killed in Dickinson County’s Waucedah Township on an agricultural farm about four miles from the Michigan-Wisconsin border tested positive for CWD in 2018. This was the first confirmed case of the fatal nervous system disease in the U.P., and no additional cases have been confirmed in the peninsula.

At its regular monthly meeting in Lansing Thursday, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission approved multiple deer hunting regulations with the goal of slowing CWD’s spread. The baiting and feeding ban was included in these regulations.

Under the ban, which went into effect immediately, deer baiting and feeding is not allowed in the Core CWD Surveillance Area — a 660-square-mile area made up of portions of Menominee, Delta and Dickinson counties surrounding the point where the CWD case was found in Waucedah Township.

An exception to the ban exists for hunters with disabilities involved with the Liberty and Independence hunts, as is the case for regulations downstate. Deer baiting and feeding will also be allowed in the U.P. outside the Core CWD Surveillance Area.

Alan Ettenhofer, co-founder and treasurer of U.P. Whitetails Association, Inc. and chairman of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance’s wildlife committee, said he was in attendance at Thursday’s meeting.

“We’re disappointed somewhat – we basically knew it was coming, but we hoped it wouldn’t be a full baiting and feeding ban,” he said.

The groups Ettenhofer is involved with are wary of the potential negative effects the decision could have on local deer populations. In the case of a harsh winter, Ettenhofer said the ban could result in winter deer kill being higher than it would have been otherwise.

“Old Man Winter is mean … he shows no mercy,” he said.

Also present at the Michigan Natural Resources Commission meeting was Dave Johnson, president of the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance. Johnson said he and Ettenhofer are on the Upper Peninsula CWD Task Force, which made recommendations regarding CWD regulations to the commission.

“They looked at the recommendations, but they … didn’t move them forward,” he said.

Johnson went on to say the task force’s recommendations included a sunset provision that would have required the commission to re-evaluate the ban if CWD was not found after a certain number of deer heads from the Core CWD Surveillance Area were tested. The recommendations also called for deer baiting to be permitted in the Dickinson County townships of Felch, Sagola, Breitung and Breen.

U.P. Whitetails Association, Inc. and the Upper Peninsula Sportsmen’s Alliance will focus on managing the U.P.’s current deer herd and working to prevent the spread of CWD in the region going forward.

“Overall, we accept what’s there — we have to,” Ettenhofer said.

LaFave was strongly opposed to the ban.

“I’m furious that the (Michigan Natural Resources Commission) would decide to ban baiting and feeding in all three counties that I represent,” he said.

According to LaFave, the exception for the Liberty and Independence hunts included in the regulations is insufficient.

“People with disabilities and the elderly are not going to be able to hunt,” LaFave said.

He went on to say he believes the ban is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Additionally, LaFave said — since hunting licenses sold under the previously-existing rules will be affected by changes made after they were purchased — the ban may be in violation of common law.

“I think that is another violation, and they should give refunds to everybody,” he said.

Furthermore, LaFave said he feels the ban on feeding goes beyond the commission’s authority, as it can regulate the “manner and method of take” for deer.

“They’re allowed to regulate killing, but they’re not allowed to regulate feeding — (it’s) not in their mandate,” he said.