Farm Bureau disappointed with baiting ban lifting

LANSING – The Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) is disappointed by the state Natural Resources Commission’s decision Thursday to lift the ban on baiting and feeding of free-ranging deer in most of the Lower Peninsula and fears the action - even with limited quantities of bait and feed allowed during a restricted period - will re-open the state to an inevitable spread of problematic wildlife diseases that pose significant dangers to the state’s hunting and agriculture industries.

MFB policy, as developed and adopted by farmer members of the state’s largest general farm organization, remains in firm support of a statewide ban on baiting and feeding of free-ranging deer, as well as strengthened fines and penalties for those found in violation.

“Michigan Farm Bureau members are in agreement with hunters that we want a healthy deer herd: one that is not artificially above the natural carrying capacity; one that is not riddled with disease; and one the entire state can be proud of to help continue the hunting heritage Michiganders hold so near and dear,” said MFB President Wayne H. Wood.

“However, in balancing the state’s recreational, economic and natural resources needs, it’s imperative that biological, medical and veterinary science take precedence in properly managing wildlife,” said Wood. “Even the Michigan Department of Natural Resources’ own experts have advised against baiting and feeding, stating that a ban on the practice is a ‘sensible safeguard’ to reduce the spread of diseases such as chronic wasting disease and bovine tuberculosis.”

The fact of the matter is the practice of baiting and feeding changes the natural habits of deer and puts domestic cattle at risk of acquiring bovine tuberculosis, and farm-raised deer at risk of acquiring chronic wasting disease from infected deer they may come into contact with, said MFB livestock and dairy specialist Ernie Birchmeier.

“Instead of moving territory, deer tend to stay in one place and congregate. They are more likely to mature earlier and give birth to more fawns. All of these factors combined raise the odds of disease transmission among deer herds and between deer and farm-raised animals,” said Birchmeier.

MFB legislative counsel Rebecca Park said Farm Bureau also is concerned about the DNR’s ability to effectively regulate the 2-gallon bait limit.

“The general hunting public is just starting to get used to and learn to adapt to the requirements of not baiting. Now is not the time to turn around on the charted course,” said Park.

Since the baiting and feeding ban for the Lower Peninsula was first initiated in 2008 in response to the detection of the state’s first case of chronic wasting disease, MFB has recognized the negative impacts of the ban on farmers who grow crops used for deer bait and feed, but maintained that the drastic step is necessary to stop the spread of potentially devastating animal diseases.

Shortly after the ban’s implementation in 2008, MFB launched the Web-based Michigan Feed Exchange to help farmers find alternative markets for carrots, sugar beets and other commodities sold as deer bait and feed.

“As the state’s largest general farm organization, the Michigan Farm Bureau remains committed to serving the needs of all our members,” said Wood. “So it goes without saying that our position to ban baiting and feeding of free-ranging deer carries with it a continued commitment to help accommodate crop farmers who may be negatively impacted.”

Added Wood: “Michigan Farm Bureau policy, in general, supports new levels of cooperation and communication between hunters, farmers and the Department of Natural Resources as part of plans to keep, promote and sustain Michigan’s wildlife.”