Deer Feeding and Baiting Banned

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Effective July 3, 2002, it will be illegal to feed or bait deer in Wisconsin. The prohibition on feeding and baiting are a part of the efforts to control Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and reduce the chance that CWD will become established in new areas of Wisconsin, state wildlife officials say.

"This restriction is viewed by CWD experts to be critical to controlling this fatal, contagious disease of deer," said Bill Vander Zouwen, chief of Department of Natural Resources wildlife and landscape ecology section.

"Any practice that concentrates deer -- including baiting and feeding -- is likely to increase the spread of CWD."

An abnormal protein called a prion causes the disease, which has been found in deer in western Dane and eastern Iowa counties. This disease can spread from deer to deer directly and through a contaminated environment created by concentrating diseased deer.

Under the rule, bear hunters and dog trainers can continue to use bait, but the bait must be placed in a hole in the ground, a stump, or a hollow log and covered by a rock or logs so that deer cannot access the bait. Bait placed for this purpose can only be used between April 15 and the end of the bear harvest season.

Food plots and gardens are not regulated by this rule. "The disease risks associated with feeding sites are different from food plots in that food sites have food repeatedly placed in the same spot," Vander Zouwen said.

People can continue to feed birds and small mammals as long as they place the food within 50 yards of homes or work places in feeding devices or structures that make the feed unavailable to deer either by design or height above the ground. Mechanical feeders that distribute feed to the ground are prohibited, as are supplements such as mineral or salt blocks or protein or similar supplements placed solely for purposes of feeding deer. Farmers can continue to care for their animals in the same manner and with the same practices they've always used.

People can also continue to hand-feed animals other than deer if they place the food no more than 30 feet away and make a reasonable attempt to remove unused food when they leave the feeding site.

"However, people should be aware that such activities may cause animal concentrations that are both unhealthy for the animals and a nuisance for people. Such feeding often involves food that is not nutritionally in the best interest of the animals," Vander Zouwen notes.

While wildlife officials acknowledge that CWD could spread with or without baiting, they maintain it would spread faster with baiting and feeding, as these practices could bring healthy deer together with diseased deer. And, they add, even small amounts of bait and feed appear to present a disease risk.

"A study in Michigan found that 5 gallons of bait actually had more nose-to-nose contacts among deer than larger piles of bait," Vander Zouwen said. "And even a small amount of feed can attract many deer. For example, one Wisconsin resident recently reported observing 35 different deer coming regularly to a 2 gallon feeding site near his house."

Vander Zouwen said officials decided to ban feeding and baiting statewide, instead of just in the infected area because the risk factors that could contribute to the introduction of CWD into the deer herd maybe present statewide. Those include: depositing of deer carcasses taken from CWD areas in and outside of Wisconsin in fields and woods; deer and elk game farms (over 900 in Wisconsin); and illegal stocking of imported deer into wild populations.

The Wisconsin legislature granted the state Department of Natural Resources the authority to ban feeding and baiting in a special bill earlier this year. The state Natural Resources Board adopted an emergency order at its June meeting that will last for 150 days, but can be extended until Sept. 1, 2003. The board would need to adopt a permanent rule in late winter or early spring if these rules are to continue. However, legislative authority given to DNR for regulating feeding ends in June 2004. The legislature will then have to decide whether to extend this authority.

Violation of these rules results could result in civil forfeitures of up to $288 plus loss of hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for up to three years for deer feeding and up to $2,079 plus loss of privileges for deer baiting. Baiting is the practice of putting out food that will attract deer for the purpose of shooting the deer during legal hunting seasons. Up to now it has not been illegal in Wisconsin to hunt deer over bait. Landowners who find that hunters or others illegally placed bait or feed on their property will be responsible for removing it.

Michigan prohibits baiting and feed in counties where bovine tuberculosis has been found. Baiting and feeding is limited to 2 gallons or less in all other areas of the state; and they adopted a rule that would prohibit all baiting and feeding statewide if CWD is found in the state. Colorado, where CWD has also been found, does not allow baiting or feeding. Minnesota banned baiting a few years back.

"In fact," Vander Zouwen said, "the majority of states do not permit baiting as a hunting practice."

DNR research has found that about 40 percent of bowhunters and 17 percent of gun hunters use bait, respectively.

"The difference in success rates among gun hunters with and without bait is negligible," Vander Zouwen said. "The difference in success rates for archers is greater, but the overall impact of hunting without bait is expected to be minor. Some people even argue that eliminating bait and feed will make deer more vulnerable to hunting by changing the distribution, movement distances, and daytime activity of deer."

Vander Zouwen noted the baiting and feeding ban was supported by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress Executive Council, Whitetails Unlimited, Wisconsin Bowhunters Association, Wisconsin Deer Hunters Coalition, Wisconsin Deer Hunters Association, and the Quality Deer Management Association.

In addition to the feeding and baiting ban, officials are taking other steps to control the spread of CWD. Through a series of special hunts and special hunting regulations, officials hope to reduce the deer herd in the infected area to as close to zero as possible in an attempt to eliminate the disease. Deer population goals in an area outside the zero population zone and up to approximately 40 miles from the center of that zone are 10 per square mile of deer range to reduce the chance of disease transmission to these areas.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Tom Hauge (608) 266-2193 and Bill Vander Zouwen 608-266-8848