Deer baiting could be back on menu after House approves bill

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

The Michigan House approved a bill Tuesday that would repeal state rules banning deer baiting even as its sponsor admitted it had little chance of surviving a likely veto.

The legislation from Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton, would repeal the ban put in place by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission in 2018 to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease among deer congregated around bait piles. It passed with the minimum number of votes needed, 57-49.

The legislation next heads to the Senate before possibly landing on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk, where in its current form it is likely to be vetoed.

Whitetail deer.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Whitmer remain opposed to the legislation, spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said, because of the potential for the increased spread of chronic wasting disease.

The additional deer that could be taken should baiting be allowed could help to slow or stop the spread of the disease, Hoitenga argued Tuesday.

“The hope was to get the DNR to come to the table and discuss these things with us and try to make some compromises and do this without legislation, but they just don’t seem willing to participate,” the northern Michigan lawmaker said.

An earlier committee hearing on the legislation featured testimony from conservative rocker Ted Nugent, in which the avid hunter questioned the science linking the spread of chronic wasting disease to bait piles. He called state officials “liars” or “stupid” for creating the ban.

“If they think they can stop deer from swapping spit, they're idiots," Nugent said.

An amendment to the legislation added Tuesday would limit the bait dumps to no more than five gallons of feed at each bait site. 

State Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch is a former Lapeer County Road Commission chairman.

At least one Republican voted against the measure. Rep. Gary Howell, R-North Branch, opposed the legislation because it would challenge the authority of the Natural Resources Commission, which more than two-thirds of voters in 1996 supported as the rule-making body regarding “the taking of wildlife.”

“I do not believe it is our place,” said Howell, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation. “We are politicians. We are not experts in scientific data management.”

The commission violated the spirit of the 1996 proposal by basing its baiting ban on questionable science, argued Rep. Beau LaFave, R-Iron Mountain. 

Michigan State Rep. Michele Hoitenga, R-Manton

"Absolutely nothing about this baiting ban and feeding ban is based on any sound science whatsoever," LaFave said.

At a time when hunting license purchases have dipped nationwide, the baiting ban is another impediment to participation in the pastime, Hoitenga said.

“This absolutely impacts hunting and will make that decline much faster,” she said.

Hoitenga doubted the governor would sign the legislation but said she hoped Whitmer “would at least sit down and have the talks with us so that we can explain our side of it.”