Overbroad Baiting Bill Would Hinder Deer Management, Spread CWD
By Nick Simonson
Thus far the legislative session in North Dakota has been fairly tame on the fish, game and conservation fronts, but the deadline for representatives and senators to submit any additional bills is still ten days away on Jan. 16. However, one bill – HB 1151 – sponsored by Representatives Thomas, Cory, Grueneich, Heinert, D. Ruby, M. Ruby, and Tveit in the House and Senators Elkin, Hogue, Meyer, Patten and Vedaa in the Senate, is so grossly overbroad that its passage would hamstring the North Dakota Game & Fish Department’s (NDG&F) ability to effectively manage the deer herds in the state, and would hasten the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).
While HB 1151 appears rather simply written in pertinent part as:
The [NDG&F] department may not issue rules or adopt a policy or practice prohibiting the baiting of deer for lawful hunting, the bill seeks with that single sentence to overturn almost two decades of flexible CWD management programs which are designed to limit the number one vector for the disease; that being the transmission of the prion which causes CWD via saliva, mucous, and other bodily fluids that accumulate when animals feed at the same pile of corn, apples, or other vegetable product placed for the purposes of drawing them into an area for hunting.
The impact of CWD is well documented. In areas of Wisconsin, where baiting is prevalent and has been allowed for decades even in light of the spread of CWD, some counties experience up to a 50 percent infection rate in their local deer herds. CWD is always fatal. In fact once infected, most deer live only 18 to 24 months after contraction with many getting the disease in their first six months of life. The science behind the interaction of bait piles, CWD, and the spread of the disease is sound, with studies conducted for more than three decades throughout the midwestern United States and Canada where the disease is present. The ability to adjust herd management techniques, including the banning of bait use by hunters, is an important lever - and perhaps the most important one - in agencies slowing the spread of CWD until a cure
or better management tool can be identified.
Imagine, based on those numbers, that 50 percent of bucks in a North Dakota hunting area only live to be two years of age. The massive-racked mule deer and large whitetails the state often touts as not only an accomplishment of its herd management processes, hunter selectivity, conservation efforts and outdoor heritage, would cease to be. In a herd where half the bucks only reach age two and are lucky enough to develop small basket racks with three points on each side at the most in that time, those animals would not be able to reach their full potential.
Additionally, at a time when deer populations are at their lowest in North Dakota in more than a decade due to other recent disease threats such as EHD and limited habitat on the landscape, imagine if half of the state’s doe populations only lived to their second year. Those three-to-six- year-old does of ideal fawn-bearing age and biology which are often responsible for producing the hardiest and most vigorous offspring would no longer be the reinvigorating force they are now in North Dakota. The fuel for each autumn’s trip to the bow stand or rifle blind would be cut off, in a sense.
For the science behind herd management and the future of hunting, HB 1151 should be rejected by hunters. The NDG&F needs the ability and the flexibility to adjust hunting unit regulations as they see fit to deal with the increasing occurrence of CWD. Preventing the agency from utilizing its most powerful tool – the banning of bait piles for hunting in those affected areas – would allow the hastened spread of CWD across North Dakota. That in turn would greatly impact the herds of both mule deer and whitetailed deer in the state, reducing not only the quantity of animals, but also the high-quality hunting opportunities they create each autumn.