Monday, April 21, 2008

WISCONSIN OPINION: The Science Says "Stop Baiting and Feeding"

It’s rarely a good idea to feed a wild animal, but it’s an especially bad idea to feed a wild deer.

That notion has gotten through to Wisconsin sportsmen. Now, it needs to get through to the state Legislature.

Last week, Wisconsin sportsmen vote, 54-46 percent, to ban the feeding and baiting of deer statewide. Baiting and feeding is already illegal in the 26 southern Wisconsin counties nearest to the 2002 outbreak of Chronic Wasting Disease.

The research is clear that baiting and feeding artificially concentrate deer and facilitate the spread of CWD and other diseases. Since deer, unlike bears, often move in groups, they feed together at the same locations. Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Biologist Ron Lichtie compares bait and feed piles to human beings at a buffet eating off the same plate.

Baiting also interferes with the normal deer hunt. Research shows:

* Feeding of deer increases reproduction and survival, which makes traditional herd control methods less effective and increases the need for earn-a-buck and October hunting seasons.

* Baiting and feeding cause deer to go nocturnal and concentrate deer on refuges, which makes a successful hunting experience more difficult.

* Baiting and feeding concentrate deer on private property -- especially parcels with the most bait -- and hinder opportunities for sportsmen who rely on public hunting lands.

But if you’re not inclined to believe the DNR, then perhaps you’ll believe the Wisconsin Farm Bureau. It raised the spectre of bovine tuberculosis, which has already been identified in Michigan and Minnesota, and the real possibility that the artificial concentration of deer threatens domestic livestock. The loss of Wisconsin’s TB-free status would cost state farmers nearly $2 million annually in additional testing costs.

Sportsmen and farmers have spoken up, but only the state Legislature can enact a baiting and feeding ban. It’s time for area lawmakers -- state Sens. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma), Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse) and Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center), and state Reps. Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls), Sheryl Albers (R-Reedsburg) and Lee Nerison (R-Westby)-- to take a visible leadership role on this issue. The science is indisputable, and it should trump politics.