The House of Delegates set limits on a proposed ban on baiting or feeding wildlife where the state Division of Natural Resources fears a possible disease outbreak. The House passed legislation to the Senate that would make it illegal to bait or feed in areas where DNR seeks to quarantine deer suspected of carrying chronic wasting disease.
But the rules bill (HB2670) had also proposed to forbid the practice in DNR containment zones targeting other wildlife diseases, including bovine tuberculosis and avian influenza. With two absences, delegates voted 64-33 to remove that language.
“We were hoping to keep the language the way it was,” DNR spokesman Hoy Murphy said Monday. “We really need to keep control of CWD, and we need this for these others too.”
DNR has been trying to control the spread of chronic wasting disease in Hampshire County, where 10 infected deer have been killed since September 2005. A threat to West Virginia’s $233 million hunting industry, the disease attacks the brains of infected deer and elk. Though chronic wasting disease is related to mad cow disease, DNR has said there is no evidence that it can affect humans. The agency also advises against eating the brains of infected animals.
DNR similarly fears bovine TB, a lung bacteria spread by infected cattle that has sickened deer in Michigan and Minnesota. Avian flu, meanwhile, can be passed on to game fowl and other winged wildlife. Health officials worldwide also warn that bird flu could mutate and infect humans.
Delegate John Overington echoed those concerns while arguing against Monday’s change to the bill. Citing emergency preparedness officials in his region, the Berkeley County Republican said DNR needs to be able to respond rapidly to avian flu.
“It’s something that very likely will happen in the next decade,” Overington said. “We are in the migrant bird pattern for ducks and other birds. You would have a crisis in a matter of days.”
But several farming lawmakers, including Delegate Robert Tabb, said that barring baiting and feeding in certain areas will drive up the damage that deer and other game already do to crops and orchards.
“I, as a farmer, have to provide feed for the state’s deer,” said Tabb, D-Jefferson. “I’ve averaged about $5,000 to $10,000 a year in losses to deer.”
Delegate Stan Shaver, D-Preston, argued that DNR is trying control how people manage wildlife on their own property.
“This is a property rights issue,” Shaver said, “And yes, (this is) so grandmother can continue to feed the songbirds.”