A permanent ban on baiting and feeding deer was approved by the state Natural Resources Board Wednesday along with several other measures designed to halt the spread of chronic wasting disease through Wisconsin’s deer herd.
The controversial proposal drew hundreds of people to the board meeting and prompted comments from more than 50 speakers, most of whom opposed the ban.
Despite the opposition, much of which was emotional, the board voted 4-3 in favor of the CWD rules, including a prohibition on baiting and feeding statewide.
Board members Trygve Solberg, James Tieftenthaler, and Stephen Willett voted against the rules. Voting in favor were Gerald O’Brien, Herbert Behnke, Howard Poulson and Jonathan Ela.
Baiting involves putting out grain to attract deer so they can be shot during hunting season. Feeding means putting out food to attract deer for viewing.
Board member Jonathan Ela voted in favor of the ban and said the future of the deer herd is at stake.
“If we are proven wrong,” said Ela, “then we are needlessly harming a number of people here. That’s something I regret.”
On the other hand, Ela added, allowing baiting and feeding and then finding out that it did spread the fatal brain disease could result in the destruction of the state’s deer herd.
“The economic and social consequences of destroying the deer herd are orders of magnitude greater,” Ela said.
The rules, including the ban, are subject to review by natural resource committees in the state Legislature. If rules pass those committees, the permanent rules are expected to take effect in September or October.
The board also approved including a provision calling for review of the CWD rules in two years. The permanent rules would replace temporary ones passed last year, which are due to expire April 30 unless extended by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Review of Administrative Rules. That committee has threatened to let the ban expire unless the board approves modifying it to allow baiting in northern Wisconsin and feeding everywhere except in the CWD eradication zone in southwestern Wisconsin.
The board voted 4-3 against modifying the ban and instead voted to ask the committee to extend the temporary ban until the permanent rule takes effect sometime in the fall.
The long day of testimony prior to the board’s vote was marked by a number of emotional pleas to lift the ban on baiting and feeding.
Several owners of sporting shops and feed stores said they have lost thousands of dollars because of the ban. Others said baiting and feeding are cherished cultural traditions, especially for hunters and for the elderly in northern Wisconsin.
“They look out their window when it is freezing and the snow is 10 feet deep and they see something alive out there,” said Robert Denman, of Iron River.
In addition to the feeding and baiting ban, the rules call for continuing efforts to kill all the deer in the so-called eradication zone in southwestern Wisconsin, which testing has shown to be the only place in the state where wild deer are infected. The rules would expand the eradication zone from 411 square miles to 874 square miles.