Michigan NRC votes to postpone UP deer feeding ban

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U.P. sportsmen object to deer feeding ban, baiting cutback

June 07, 2002

By John Flesher/Associated Press

EAST TAWAS, Mich. -- The Michigan Natural Resources Commission voted Friday to postpone for one year a ban on supplemental deer feeding in the Upper Peninsula.

The panel, which sets wildlife policy for the state, voted 4-2 to let sporting groups place food in the wild next winter in most of the peninsula. Doing so will be prohibited in the four counties bordering Wisconsin -- Gogebic, Iron, Dickinson and Menominee.

Department of Natural Resources staffers had recommended prohibiting the practice throughout the U.P. in hopes of keeping chronic wasting disease out of the state. Supplemental feeding already is prohibited in the Lower Peninsula.

Under the amendment to the state's deer hunting regulations approved by the commission, a statewide ban on feeding will take effect in May 2003. The commission also voted to impose the same two-gallon limit on hunters' bait piles that now is required in the Lower Peninsula.

The one-year reprieve was a concession to U.P. hunting groups that pleaded with the commission Thursday not to halt feeding, which they believe is essential to prevent mass deer starvation during harsh winters.

"If we do not supplemental feed, we will lose 80 percent of our herd in a normal year and 90 percent in a bad year," Ron Racine, a spokesman for the Calumet-Keweenaw Sportsmen's Club, told commissioners during a public hearing Thursday.

Hunting groups across the Upper Peninsula spend thousands of dollars each winter on corn, hay and other foods to keep deer from starving, a practice known as supplemental feeding.

It differs from baiting, which means spreading food on the ground during hunting season to lure deer within shooting range.

Supplemental feeding presently is banned in the Lower Peninsula, while hunters are allowed to dump up to 2 gallons of feed as bait. Supplemental feeding is allowed in most of the Upper Peninsula, and the bait limit is 5 gallons.

The DNR staff wants to bring the Upper Peninsula under the same limits as the Lower Peninsula.

The Natural Resources Commission has imposed baiting and feeding restrictions in recent years in an effort to curb the spread of bovine tuberculosis, which has infected deer and cattle in the northeastern Lower Peninsula.

Because bovine TB has not been discovered in the Upper Peninsula, the commission has taken a more lenient stand on baiting and feeding there. But with the recent discovery of chronic wasting disease in neighboring Wisconsin, DNR wildlife biologists say it's time for a crackdown in the U.P. as well.

"This is a significant threat and we need to take it seriously," said George Burgoyne, resource management deputy.

DNR officials believe deer spread both diseases by breathing and coughing on each other at feed piles. Skeptics say there isn't enough evidence to put the blame on feeding and baiting.

"Chronic wasting disease is a very scary thing ... but at present it is not in Michigan and little is known about its spread," Rory Mattson of Escanaba told the commission during its meeting Thursday.

Jay Macki of Newberry, representing the Tahquamenon Sportsmen's Club, accused the DNR of "throwing a bogeyman at us."

Leader of numerous sporting groups urged the commission to postpone action for a year and appoint a committee of scientists, hunters and others to consider alternatives.

Among the suggestions: establishing a buffer zone along the Michigan-Wisconsin border where supplemental feeding would be banned and steps taken to keep deer from livestock feeding areas.

Hunters repeatedly warned that a ban on feeding would decimate the deer population, especially in the northern U.P., where hundreds of inches of snow fall in a typical winter.

Burgoyne said agency studies have shown that supplemental feeding doesn't help deer as much as its supporters believe. "It can be effective in a local area but not across a wide part of the deer range," he said.

During an unusually harsh winter, "you can't feed enough to help a lot of deer," he said. There are sometimes large die-offs for lack of food, "but the deer bounce back very quickly."

The DNR plan does not include a ban on recreational feeding, in which people spread up to 2 gallons of food near their homes to attract deer for viewing. That would continue to be allowed everywhere except in the seven-county bovine TB zone, where it's already off-limits, Burgoyne said.
 

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