We’re talking about an administrative rule that has the force of law that is currently in effect.– Darrell Bazzell, DNR secretary The state’s Natural Resources Board came within one vote of repealing its own ban on deer baiting during a Wednesday meeting in Eau Claire.

The citizens board, which sets policy for the Department of Natural Resources, voted 3-3 on a proposal to allow limited deer baiting.

But the seventh member of the board, Catherine Stepp of Sturtevant, was not present, so the ban will remain in place.

An emergency ban on deer baiting for hunting and recreational deer feeding was enacted in June after a number of state scientists concluded the practice could hasten the spread of chronic wasting disease.

But at Wednesday’s meeting in Eau Claire, three members of the resources board said they had been inundated with calls from hunters who said they wouldn’t bowhunt or gun hunt if they could not use bait to attract deer.

Chairman Trig Solberg said because of the ban on baiting, bowhunters were killing fewer deer. To prevent chronic wasting disease from spreading, it is important to have a good deer kill this year, he said.

“Now we’re finding out the deer kill may be way down. Let’s make a mid-course correction,” said Solberg, of Minocqua.

Solberg said a fair amount of illegal deer baiting is going on in northern Wisconsin.

But DNR Secretary Darrell Bazzell said changing the baiting rule probably would be illegal unless the board gave proper public notice and placed the item on its agenda ahead of time.

A discussion on the baiting rule was not included on Wednesday’s agenda.

“We’re talking about an administrative rule that has the force of law that is currently in effect,” Bazzell said.

Bazzell said that in the June vote, it was the board’s clear intention to maintain the ban through the hunting seasons.

Board member Stephen Willett of Phillips, an attorney, said the board did have the authority to waive an emergency rule.

Willett proposed allowing limited baiting during the nine-day gun deer season.

“I can’t believe that in nine days CWD is going to go wild and spread,” he said.

Willett’s proposal failed on a tie vote, with Willett, Solberg and Jim Tiefenthaler of Waukesha voting in favor of the move, while Herb Behnke of Shawano, Howard Paulson of Madison and Gerald O’Brien of Stevens Point voted to keep the ban in place.

Bob Cary, a UW-Madison wildlife ecologist who serves on an inter-agency team studying chronic wasting disease, said today that science and health experts recommend against baiting and feeding deer because the practice concentrates deer.

“The idea is that chronic wasting disease is transmitted by intimate contact between animals,” he said.

Until scientists know specifically how the disease is spread, the ban is a reasonable step, Cary said.