MI: Baiting citations still high

Lansing – Illegal deer-baiting violations initially skyrocketed
in 2008 when the state banned deer bait in the Lower Peninsula in
response to a captive deer found with chronic wasting
disease.

But reported baiting violations and ticketed offenses have leveled
off in the years since, although state officials say figures remain
above historic levels.

Dean Molnar, DNR assistant chief of Law Enforcement, presented
deer-baiting enforcement trends to the Natural Resources Commission
at its April meeting. The NRC is preparing to make a decision on
the fate of the ban after finding no additional deer with CWD in
the past three years.

“We had a big spike (in baiting violations) in the first year. In
the second year of the ban, it began to taper off … then the
trend started to go down,” Molnar said of both total complaints and
tickets issued for baiting and feeding violations.

In 2008, the first year of the ban, total baiting and feeding
complaints increased 419 percent, and tickets issued for offenses
jumped 227 percent from the previous year. In 2009, total
complaints dropped slightly to 2,034, from 2,160 in 2008, but the
number of tickets increased another 17 percent, to a total of 701
issued from Oct. 1 to Dec. 27, 2009. During the 2010 season – from
Oct. 1 through Jan. 8, 2011 – both statistics decreased
significantly, with 1,525 total complaints and 537 tickets.

Despite the more recent decline, “Our complaints are still up and
the tickets and warnings are still up quite a bit from 2007, when
we didn’t have a ban,” Molnar said.

Some hunters also have become increasingly crafty at hiding their
violations, Molnar said.

“Those that are still baiting are spreading it out more, using
smaller piles, and trying to conceal or hide it. We’re seeing an
increased use of minerals and liquid,” he said. Hunters also have
stashed bait under tree limbs, and spread juiced beets or other
vegetables to illegally attract deer during the ban.”

The DNR Law Enforcement Division did not present a formal opinion
on the baiting ban, and said officers will enforce whatever baiting
or feeding regulations the NRC adopts in June.

Amy Trotter, resource policy manager for Michigan United
Conservation Clubs, said the group is formally in favor of
maintaining the ban, and the enforcement trends don’t seem to
benefit either side of the debate on baiting.

The presentation showed that more may need to be done to enforce
baiting regulations, Trotter said.

“I think what it really said to me is … if we believe baiting
should be illegal, that enforcement is the key. With the current
penalties out there, it is not necessarily being enforced in the
courts,” Trotter said. “The enforcement needs to have enforcement
penalties, whatever we do.

“People are getting better at hiding the violations,” she said.
“That makes enforcement and surveillance that much more
difficult.”

Trotter said a recent MUCC panel discussion revealed that hunters
remain split on baiting, and the organization may revisit the issue
at its members convention in June.

“It’s pretty clear that about half of our hunters believe baiting
is a valuable tool for them,” Trotter said. “It’s still a divisive
issue, even among our board.”

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