The first deer season under Michigan’s new baiting ban is about to begin, and hunters are far from reaching a consensus about the controversial policy.
The Michigan Natural Resources Commission voted last year to ban deer baiting across much of the state to halt the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD). The always-fatal illness affects deer and elk in 26 states and spreads through direct contact between animals and through bodily fluids such as poop, spit, blood or urine.
Supporters of the ban argue that baiting encourages animals to congregate around bait piles and salt licks, which allows CWD to spread more rapidly.
Opponents, like Michigan native and rock-n-roll star Ted Nugent, believe the ban represents a direct attack on the hunting community and will fail to stop the spread of CWD. Nugent argued his case at the state capitol during a hearing for a bill that would overturn the ban.
“The regulations in Michigan are chasing hunters out of the sport,” Nugent told the state House Government Operations Committee. “This law is dramatically reducing revenue generation and dangerously reducing family recreation.”
Calling the ban an “engineered ruination of our hunting heritage,” Nugent argued that deer spread CWD on their own.
“While I’m sitting here, deer are swapping spit,” he said. “They eat off the same apple. They eat off the same branch. You can’t ban that. That’s what deer do. Maybe the epidemiologists didn’t spend adequate time in the deer woods.”
Michigan United Conservation Clubs supports the ban, and members point out that if CWD continues to spread, there won’t be any deer for Nugent and others to hunt.
“The health of our deer herd needs to come first so the next generation of hunters have deer populations in order to hunt,” Amy Trotter, executive director of the conservation clubs, told Bridge.
Dan O’Brien, a veterinary specialist with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ (DNR) wildlife disease lab, acknowledged that the ban might discourage some hunters. But CWD represents a more existential threat to hunting than a slight decrease in the number of people who hunt.
“We’re dealing with a disease that has the potential to compromise the deer herd for decades and decades to come,” he told Bridge. “This is a situation where we need to be able to make a sacrifice in the present — so that we can preserve this resource that we love for future generations.”
Twenty-four states ban baiting of cervids, and 15 others restrict the practice in various ways, according to research by the DNR. The Michigan ban applies in the entire Lower Peninsula and in parts of the Upper Peninsula.