Hunters will adjust to the new bait ban

A new day has dawned for Michigan hunters.

Action taken by state Natural Resources Commission members Thursday means that 2018 will be the last hunting season where hunters in the Lower Peninsula can hunt over bait. Beginning Jan. 31 of next year, only hunters who are disabled will be allowed to hunt over any kind of bait in the Lower Peninsula.

The new regulations are designed to halt the expansion of chronic wasting disease in the state’s deer herd.

The “new” regulations are anything but for local hunters. Here in the Bovine Tuberculosis Zone , with the exception of Presque Isle County for short periods, hunters haven’t been able to hunt over bait for quite some time now — ever since bovine TB first was discovered locally in 1995.

What the NRC’s decision this week does, however, is “even the playing field” across the state for hunters in the Lower Peninsula. With bait no longer in use next year, hunters are going to have to develop new techniques to hunt deer. For most, that won’t be a problem. For others, it will be a new learning curve that some will embrace, others will curse.

Make no mistake, the action NRC members took will not be viewed favorably by most. Change never is easy, and this change impacts hunting traditions that go back decades.

To the NRC’s credit, however, they have been very transparent about this action. They gathered a lot of research and input from around the state before rushing to judgment. Eleven public hearings were held in every corner of Michigan to share information and seek input. More than 650 people attended those meetings. In addition, 361 hand-written surveys were submitted to the commission studying the issue, as well as 135 online surveys.

Ultimately, NRC members believed the threat from CWD was too great to the state’s deer herd and something needed to be done now to prevent the threat from spreading. In addition to the ban on bait, other restrictions also were enacted.

“We hope that by setting these specific CWD regulations we can limit the movement of this disease in Michigan,” said Vicki Pontz, NRC chairperson.

According to Michigan Department of Natural Resources biologists, CWD is a fatal neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in cervids — deer, elk and moose. The disease attacks the brains of infected animals and produces small lesions that result in death. There is no cure; once an animal is infected, it will die.

CWD first showed up in Michigan in 2015 and, to date, 60 deer have been identified with it. All the deer came from six counties — Clinton, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent and Montcalm.

DNR biologists have been consistent with their techniques of battling both CWD and bovine TB. Since deer are social animals and thus, nose-to-nose contact is increased at places like bait piles, one way to reduce the contact is to eliminate the source of what draws the deer together — in this instance, food. Obviously, since bovine TB still is around, the method doesn’t eliminate the the problem. At best, it only reduces the chance of transmission.

Unfortunately, short of eradication, it seems to be the best tool biologists have to work with.

The NRC’s action this week is historic. Many will be frustrated by it.

Ultimately, however, hunters will adjust. And, when they do, they might just discover a much more rewarding and satisfying way to hunt for healthy deer.

Bill Speer can be reached at bspeer@thealpenanews.com or 989-354-3111, ext. 331. Follow Bill on Twitter @billspeer13.