Bill would prevent Game and Fish from implementing baiting restrictions
Bill aims “to address the loss of hunting opportunities that many North Dakota sportsmen and women lose by not being able to use bait.”
BISMARCK – Restricting the ability of North Dakota hunters to bait for deer reduces hunting opportunities and hasn’t been proven effective as a way to mitigate the spread of chronic wasting disease.
So says the author of a bill in the North Dakota Legislature that would prevent the Game and Fish Department from issuing rules to prohibit baiting for deer as a legal hunting technique.
Authored by Rep. Paul Thomas, R-Velva, HB 1151 awaits action by the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Other authors of the bill are Reps. Claire Cory, R-Grand Forks; Jim Grueneich, R-Ellendale; Pat Heinert, R-Bismarck; Dan Ruby, R-Minot; Matthew Ruby, R-Minot; and Bill Tveit, R-Hazen. Senate authors are Sens. Jay Elkin, R-Taylor; David Hogue, R-Minot; Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks; Dale Patten, R-Watford City; and Shawn Vedaa, R-Velva.
In an email, Thomas said he introduced the bill “to address the loss of hunting opportunities that many North Dakota sportsmen and women lose by not being able to use bait.”
Currently, baiting is prohibited on state and federal land in North Dakota and in deer hunting units located within 25 miles of a confirmed case of chronic wasting disease. The Game and Fish Department last year banned baiting in Unit 2B south of Grand Forks after a single whitetail buck shot in October 2021 near Climax, Minn., unexpectedly tested positive for the disease, which is always fatal to deer, elk and moose.
“Although people still can hunt, restricting the use of bait in many instances makes the probability of success of harvesting a deer much lower,” Thomas said, reducing “the likelihood that a hunter sitting in a fixed location, such as a blind, will even see a deer.”
Baiting also is a “tool” that helps mentors encourage new hunters by drawing animals closer, Thomas says, thereby providing the “thrill of seeing deer travel by and mingle in very close proximity.”
“Many hunters do not have access to good deer hunting habitat, and so we need to use the tool of bait to be able to attract deer,” he said.
First detected in North Dakota in 2009, CWD has been confirmed in 70 deer, predominantly in the western part of the state. Results from the department’s hunter-harvested surveillance efforts during the most recent deer hunting season are not yet available.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it can take more than a year for an animal infected with CWD to show signs of illness, and many deer that test positive appear perfectly healthy. To date, the only documented case of a mortality directly attributed to CWD was a whitetail found dead south of Williston in February 2019.
“Deer have certainly tested positive (for) the disease, but no significant herd health effects are being seen,” Thomas said.
Still, baiting restrictions are widely accepted as a best management practice to mitigate the spread of CWD. Artificially drawing deer into close proximity increases disease risks, the thinking goes.
“The practice of baiting exposes more deer to higher levels of CWD compared to what occurs naturally,” the Game and Fish Department said in its new 2023-2027 CWD Management and Surveillance Plan. “A restriction on this practice is aimed to reduce the overall risk of contact with contaminated landscapes or infected deer, thereby slowing how quickly the disease spreads.”
A task force of Game and Fish personnel from various sections within the department developed the new CWD plan, based on CWD management plans from other states and best practices outlined by the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and others.
John Bradley, executive director of the North Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the group opposes the bill. The Federation doesn’t have a stance on baiting – “we leave that up to the hunter,” he said – but the Game and Fish Department should manage the deer herd, not the Legislature.
“One of the tenets of the North American model of wildlife management is that we let wildlife professionals manage our game species with the best available science,” Bradley said.
If the goal is to increase hunter opportunity, the long-term implications of CWD and its impact on the state’s deer population also has to be considered, Bradley says.
“We need to manage that deer herd for the long-term health” of the resource, he said. “It’s not a private resource; it’s a public resource and so we need to manage that population for not only the kids today, but their kids and their grandkids down the road.”
Putting more habitat on the landscape is the best way to ensure a healthy deer herd, Bradley says.
“That’s something that the Federation would be happy to work with politicians to address – getting more funding on the ground for wildlife habitat,” he said.