NRC approves deer regulations related to chronic wasting disease

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A series of deer hunting regulations aimed at slowing the spread of chronic wasting disease was approved Thursday by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission at its regular monthly meeting in Lansing. The action came after a thorough review of the best available science on CWD and multiple opportunities for public input.

CWD is a fatal neurological (brain and nervous system) disease found in cervids (deer, elk, and moose). The disease attacks the brain of an infected animal and produces small lesions that result in death. There is no cure; once an animal is infected, it will die.

Major deer hunting regulations, which were approved for the 2019 deer seasons, unless noted otherwise, include:

Baiting and feeding

  • Continue a ban on baiting and feeding in the entire Lower Peninsula that took effect at the end of January 2019. There is an exception to this ban for hunters with disabilities during the Liberty and Independence hunts. Qualifying hunters are allowed to use 2 gallons at a time of single-bite baits during deer seasons.
  • Allow baiting and feeding in the Upper Peninsula except for a ban, effective immediately, in the Core CWD Surveillance Area. This core area comprises some 660 square miles, defined by major roadways within portions of Menominee, Delta and Dickinson counties around the single case of a CWD-positive deer found last year in the Upper Peninsula. Consistent with regulations in the Lower Peninsula, there is an exception to the baiting ban in the U.P. Core Area for hunters with disabilities during the Liberty and Independence hunts.

Other regulations

  • Move the Liberty Hunt to the second weekend in September. Based on this change, the 2019 Liberty Hunt will be held Sept. 14-15 instead of Sept. 21-22 as it was previously scheduled. The early antlerless season – held on private land in select counties – will continue to be held the third weekend in September (Sept. 21-22).
  • Change the deer baiting start date for hunters with disabilities who meet specific requirements. Baiting for these individuals can occur five days before and during the second Saturday in September.
  • Require that scents placed to entice deer, whether composed of natural or synthetic materials, be placed so that they are inaccessible for consumption by deer and placed in such a manner to prohibit any physical contact with deer.
  • In the Upper Peninsula, reinstate the antlerless option during archery deer season for hunters hunting on the Deer License or Deer Combo License in areas open to antlerless licenses.
  • Also in the Upper Peninsula, eliminate antler point restrictions in the Core CWD Surveillance Area, and allow the use of crossbows in the late archery season in the Core Area.
  • In the Lower Peninsula, add Barry, Lenawee and Midland counties to the CWD Management Zone, where additional regulations will apply.
  • Also in the Lower Peninsula, implement a 4-point antler point restriction across all Deer and Deer Combo licenses for Mecosta, Montcalm and Ionia counties. This is part of an experimental APR to determine the impacts of APRs on deer populations in an area of known CWD occurrence.
  • Require that established department goals for management of antlerless deer be achieved, if this experimental APR is to continue.
  • Require that deer collected with a salvage permit as a result of collision with a motor vehicle may not be removed from the county where the animal was killed to prevent potential spread of CWD.

“We hope that by setting these specific CWD regulations we can limit the movement of this disease in Michigan,” said Vicki Pontz, NRC chairperson. “We appreciate all the comments we have received from across the state. Michigan hunters are very passionate about deer and deer hunting, and I look forward to working with them as we continue to confront this threat to wildlife and our valued hunting tradition.”

In addition to the regular opportunities for hunters and others to get information and share ideas about wildlife management and hunting regulations, the NRC and DNR offered and promoted a number of additional public forums specifically aimed at discussing proposed CWD regulations. Those opportunities included:

  • Dedicated time for public comments during NRC meetings in May, June and July and at Upper Peninsula Citizens’ Advisory Council meetings in May and June.
  • Four CWD public listening sessions in May and June – one each in Alger and Houghton counties and two in Menominee County – focused on the proposed regulations.
  • Ongoing opportunity to submit opinions and ideas through a dedicated public email address.

More than 175 people attended the special CWD public listening sessions, while over 235 comments were received via email.

“Public input is an extremely important part of any discussion surrounding the care of Michigan’s natural resources,” Pontz said. “We want to thank the hunters and others who took the time to attend a public meeting or write an email and share their ideas about how best to strengthen Michigan’s wildlife populations for future generations.”

Chronic wasting disease first was discovered in Michigan in a free-ranging deer in May 2015. To date, more than 60,000 deer in Michigan have been tested for CWD and it has been confirmed in 120 free-ranging deer in nine Michigan counties: Clinton, Dickinson, Eaton, Gratiot, Ingham, Ionia, Jackson, Kent and Montcalm.

More information about these new deer hunting and baiting regulations also will be posted next week to the Michigan.gov/CWD webpage. For additional questions, contact the DNR Wildlife Division by email at DNR-Wildlife@michigan.gov or by phone at 517-284-9453.

A coalition of lawmakers from the Upper Peninsula blasted the Natural Resources Commission’s (NRC) decision to wholesale ban deer baiting in parts of the Upper Peninsula in perpetuity.

“I am sick and tired of downstate knuckleheads trying to outlaw our U.P way of life,” said state Rep. Beau LaFave, of Iron Mountain. “These do-gooder environmentalists — who have never lived in the UP or hunted here — continue to pass rule after rule that makes life here difficult. Whether it’s Dana Nessel’s never-ending crusade to shut down Line 5 or the NRC’s wholesale ban on deer baiting, it’s clear that these people are unaware of the impact these policies have on our freedoms and our economy.”

LaFave said many small businesses in the U.P. sell deer bait to visiting hunters. A recent study published by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs showed Michigan’s 700,000 hunters and 1.1 million anglers brought more than $11 billion in economic activity to Michigan and support in excess of 170,000 Michigan jobs.

“I wonder also what happens to hunters within the new bait ban area who have already purchased their hunting licenses for the year,” LaFave said. “Are we going to refund hunters’ licenses now that the rules have changed? How much further will the NRC extend its authority? In one fell swoop they closed off baiting to a vast 660 square miles, what will stop them from adding hundreds more before the end of the next hunting season?”

The new ban impacts roughly 660 square miles, defined by major roadways within portions of Menominee, Delta and Dickinson counties. Last year, hunting and fishing license sales paid for $83.5 million of game and fish protection activity carried out by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

State Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan encouraged Upper Peninsula residents this spring to participate in the NRC’s public comment period leading up to the decision to ban deer baiting. He said northern lawmakers also urged the commissioners to hold a meeting in the Upper Peninsula before a decision was made and was disappointed that a meeting was not held.

“I am concerned that the commission did not take into full account the public comments offered by local residents. It would have been helpful to have a hearing in the area that will be affected by the ban,” McBroom said. “I am further concerned that the ban was enacted this year instead of waiting a year and I look forward to working on implementing a sunset for this new policy.”

“This ban will negatively impact most of Delta and Dickinson counties and some of Menominee, while providing little assurance that we can stop the spread of CWD in the U.P.,” said state Rep. Greg Markkanen of Hancock. “This ban was put in place because a single deer found in the area tested positive for CWD. We should be inviting hunters into our land to help us manage the deer population to contain the spread, not suggesting they find somewhere else to go.’

Markkanen also noted that banning baiting unfairly impacts disabled hunters who use bait as a regular part of their hunting activity.

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