Baiting Ban Being Ignored

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Some hunters and wildlife watchers are ignoring the state's new ban on baiting and feeding white-tailed deer, prompting state conservation wardens to gear up to begin issuing more citations for violations of the new baiting and feeding regulations.

The state Natural Resources Board enacted the baiting and feeding restrictions as a way to help limit the instances of artificial, close deer-to-deer contact that scientists believe is one of the ways that chronic wasting disease spreads among deer. The regulations went into effect July 3.

"CWD experts view this restriction as critical to controlling this fatal, contagious disease of deer," said Tom Harelson, the chief warden with the state Department of Natural Resources. "Any practice that concentrates deer - including baiting and feeding - is likely to increase the spread of CWD."

Since the rule took effect, wardens across the state have been following up on complaints of illegal baiting and feeding, especially in areas popular with hunters. 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.

In the Wausau area, one warden wrote several citations totaling about $3,500 to one hunter for several violations (including the taking of an illegal buck in 2001) after he found him hunting over one of four bait piles the hunter prepared. In the Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin, wardens have discovered numerous 5-gallon sized piles of feed under tree stands. Near Black River Falls, local wardens have already written a handful of citations to people who knowingly broke the law and hunted over bait piles. In all these cases, each person responsible for setting out the bait knew they were in violation of the new law.

"Anyone who breaks the baiting and feeding regulation should expect to be cited," Harelson said. "We can't afford to let people off with a warning if they knowingly break this law. The stakes are just too high."

Landowners who find that hunters or others illegally placed bait or feed on their property are responsible for assuring that it is removed.

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 prompted more nose-to-nose contacts among deer than larger piles of bait. Before the new rule took effect here, one Wisconsin resident reported as many as 35 different deer feeding at a 2-gallon sized pile of bait near his house.

"The difference in success rates among gun hunters with and without bait is negligible," Harelson said. "The difference in success rates is greater for archers, but the overall impact of hunting without bait should be small."

Violation of the rule could result in civil forfeitures of up to $300 for feeding and up to $2,091 for baiting, plus loss of hunting, fishing and trapping privileges for up to three years.

While the regulations somewhat restrict the feeding of birds and small animals like squirrels, its goal is to curtail the feeding and baiting of deer.

"We understand that many people enjoy feeding wildlife and we'd like that to continue as much as possible," Harelson said. "As long as deer aren't being fed, people shouldn't run into any problems."

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

People may continue to feed birds and small mammals under the new rule as long as they place the food within 50 yards of homes or work places in feeding devices or structures that make the feed inaccessible to deer. 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 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 area.

"We realize that not everyone is happy with the new baiting and feeding regulations," Harelson said. "But eradicating chronic wasting disease from our deer herd is not going to be an easy task and we need everyone to help out right now."