MADISON–A legislative committee voted unanimously Thursday to extend the state’s ban on baiting and feeding deer through at least April 1, maintaining a power the Department of Natural Resources says is an invaluable tool in fighting chronic wasting disease.

Several feed providers begged the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules to end the ban, saying they have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in business since it went into effect July 3. Among other things, they argued science had not proven that baiting and feeding contributed to the spread of the deadly disease from deer to deer.

But committee co-chairwoman Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, said the state needed to err on the side of caution and use every tool available to wipe out the fatal brain disease that causes deer to grow thin and die.

“We only have one shot, one shot at preventing the spread,” Robson said.

Lawmakers granted the DNR the temporary authority to ban baiting and feeding while environmental officials work on permanent rules to regulate it. The committee had the power to extend the emergency authority through Sept. 1. But the committee decided to grant the authority only through April. It can modify its decision at any time and still extend the rules until Sept. 1.

Rep. Scott Gunderson, R-Waterford, said he wanted to see the results of testing that is scheduled to be done on deer culled in this fall’s hunt to determine the spread of the disease. He and other members said they were open to modifying the statewide ban if results show the disease is not present in some areas of Wisconsin.

But for now, the ban needs to stay in place, Gunderson said.

“We’ve got to do what’s right here. We’ve got to look at the big picture,” he said.

The authority to ban baiting and feeding is one of several powers granted to the DNR as part of the emergency rules designed to fight chronic wasting disease.

Wildlife biologists believe animal-to-animal contact can help spread the disease, and they argue any practice that concentrates deer together is likely to spread the disease.

But feed producers argued science has not proven a link and the state was overreacting to the potential link, especially in areas of Wisconsin where the disease has not been found.

Patti Rantala, who owns a feed store in Iron River with her husband, told the committee they lost $30,000 in sales by Oct. 31 because of the ban. She urged members to suspend the emergency rules immediately and allow people to bait and feed deer again. She said keeping the ban in place until spring may drive her out of business.

“This issue for us is our livelihood,” she said.

The state DNR announced in February that three bucks shot near Mount Hore–just west of Madison had chronic wasting disease, the first time it was discovered in deer or elk east of the Mississippi River. State officials so far have found 40 infected deer in a 411-square-mile area of Dane, Iowa and Sauk counties.

A hunt to wipe out all the estimated 25,000 deer in that area in hopes of eradicating the disease began last month and runs until the end of January.

DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell said the ban was essential to the agency’s efforts to fight chronic wasting disease. Some committee members suggested a compromise that would allow small feed piles to bait and feed deer.

But Bazzell said even two-gallon buckets of feed can attract three dozen deer, possibly exposing them to the disease if one is infected.

“We simply do not want to unintentionally spread this disease,” Bazzell said.