CWD in Michigan brings baiting to fore in state

Madison – The discovery of CWD in Michigan and the ongoing
effort to curb CWD in Wisconsin has kept a deer baiting and feeding
discussion in play as hunting seasons head into full swing and the
Legislature begins a new session in January.

The issue of disease, and a large deer herd, have created an
even larger interest by the DNR and some conservation groups to end
baiting and feeding.

The DNR is in the process of developing a video that talks about
the negative aspects of baiting and feeding. The agency expects to
have that video posted on its web site by the end of September.

Keith Warnke, DNR deer ecologist, said disease and deer
population management are the foundation of why there should be no
place for baiting and feeding of deer.

“Deer population management stretches a long way, and involves
agricultural issues, ecosystem issues, and forest composition
changes,” Warnke said. Feeding and baiting “confounds
herd-management efforts, because additional energy results in lower
mortality and higher birth rates and more deer. That means we are
further above goal levels and it is harder to get down to goal
levels.”

Feeding also draws deer into areas where hunting is not allowed.
Baiting tends to reduce a deer’s home range and reduces the
availability of that deer to other hunters during daylight
hours.

Wisconsin’s agricultural industry is concerned about the
potential spread of bovine tuberculosis. Bovine TB has been found
in Michigan and Minnesota, but not in Wisconsin.

Bovine TB could threaten the $34 billion livestock industry. If
Wisconsin were to lose its TB-free status, the state could see an
additional $1.87 million in costs that farmers would have to pay
for mandatory testing of cattle intended for export.

In addition, in 2007 Wisconsin paid an estimated $1.3 million in
claims for agricultural damage caused by deer.

Dr. Paul McGraw, assistant state veterinarian with the
Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, said the
potential of disease problems involving white-tailed deer and
cattle is exemplified in Michigan.

“They just had their 40th positive beef herd infected with
tuberculosis from deer, and baiting of deer certainly brings them
in together,” McGraw said. “Any baiting that goes on is a huge
issue, because deer then come in together and can spread it from
deer to deer very easily, and they can then infect cattle. Deer
tend to come in and eat out of the feed bunks of cattle.”

McGraw said DATCP supports a ban on baiting and feeding of
deer.

Last winter the DNR said the deer population in the state was
still 60 percent over goal, at 1.1 million deer. The agency has set
an over-winter goal of just more than 700,000 deer. and projects
the population going into the 2008 hunting seasons is 1.5 million
to 1.7 million deer.

“We’ve at least turned the corner with the population, halting
the increase in the last couple of years,” Warnke said. “The
population projection this year is down ever so slightly from last
year.

“The reality is that new things that make this more and more
important is that there is bovine tuberculosis in Minnesota and
Michigan in their wild deer,” Warnke said. “The spread of
tuberculosis is related to baiting and feeding. And, there now is
chronic wasting disease in Michigan.”

This summer, the Michigan DNR reported the finding of CWD on a
deer farm in that state, and also found epizootic hemorrhagic
disease. Wisconsin had its first find of CWD in 2002 and at the
same time had an outbreak of EHD.

Michigan has banned deer baiting and feeding in the Lower
Peninsula following the finding of CWD.

The spread of both diseases can be accelerated at a bait or feed
pile, officials say. Warnke said a study at the University of
Wisconsin showed that the amount of bait or feed placed is
immaterial when looking at the amount of deer-to-deer contact.

“So, there is no safe amount to regulate deer-to-deer contact,”
Warnke said. “We have a deer herd that is having an impact on our
ecosystem, and foresters have identified deer as the number one
confounding factor when it comes to forest regeneration.”

Not only trees, but the forest community is being changed in the
long term by the high number of deer, and Warnke said baiting and
feeding just adds to the problem. Baiting and feeding decrease
mortality and increase productivity, creating for a greater need
for earn-a-buck seasons.

Jane Severt, executive director of the Wisconsin County Forests
Association, said high deer numbers were of concern when county
forests recently were audited for management techniques.

“The auditors encouraged us to try to bring down deer numbers
due to the effects they are having on forest regeneration,” Severt
said. “We are part of a coalition to come up with a ban on baiting
and feeding of deer.”

To illustrate the point, a 29-acre deer exclosure has been built
on the Bayfield County Forest. An “exclosure” keeps deer out and
allows plants to grow. Severt said the differences from inside the
fence to outside are dramatic.

She said foresters can observe changes in the composition of
plants in the forest over time from the effects of too many
deer.

Foresters are concerned that the $22 billion forest products
industry could be threatened by changing species and health of the
forest.

“When you put it all together, there is still no valid reason to
continue to bait or feed deer,” Warnke said.

Wisconsin’s law currently allows up to 2 gallons to be placed at
any one time for baiting (for hunting purposes) and feeding (for
viewing purposes) of deer, primarily in northern counties.

Baiting and feeding currently are prohibited in 26 southern
counties, primarily to discourage further spread of chronic wasting
disease.

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