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Potential legislation would target Game and Fish Department's baiting ban authority

Scott Peterson, deputy director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said there's “a pretty high likelihood” a bill will be introduced to strip the department of its authority to ban the practice of baiting for deer.

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Casey Anderson (standing at left), wildlife chief of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, and department director Jeb Williams address those attending the department's fall Advisory Board meeting Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, at Game and Fish headquarters in Bismarck. The meeting was streamed live on the Game and Fish website, and this screen shot is from the meeting. Seated are Greg Link (from left), conservation and communications chief; Scott Winkelman, chief game warden; and, at far right, Scott Peterson, deputy Game and Fish director.
Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department
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BISMARCK – A bill that would strip the North Dakota Game and Fish Department of its authority to ban baiting for deer as a way to mitigate the spread of chronic wasting disease could be introduced during the upcoming session of the North Dakota Legislature, a department official said this week.

The 2023 legislative session is tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 3.

“We’re hearing there’s a pretty high likelihood” of a bill being introduced, Scott Peterson, deputy director of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, said. “We haven’t seen any language, I don’t know, really, exactly what it’s going to say, and so we’ll just have to see how that goes.”

Peterson mentioned the potential legislation Wednesday night during the Game and Fish Department’s fall Advisory Board meeting for District 7. Held at the Game and Fish Department’s Bismarck headquarters, the meeting also was streamed live on the Game and Fish website.

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Game and Fish is mandated to hold the meetings twice a year in each of the state’s eight Advisory Board districts; 62 people attended the meeting in Bismarck.

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Peterson’s mention of the potential legislation followed a heated discussion on the department’s policy of banning the practice of baiting, for deer hunting, as a way to mitigate the spread of CWD, a neurological disease that is fatal to deer, elk and moose. Mainly through testing of hunter-harvested deer, North Dakota has confirmed 70 cases of CWD – all in deer – since 2009, when the disease first was discovered in the state.

While baiting is prohibited on state and federal lands in North Dakota, it is legal on private land in hunting units where CWD hasn’t been documented. Game and Fish implements baiting restrictions on private land as part of its CWD mitigation strategy whenever the disease is found within 25 miles of a particular hunting unit.

Such was the case in Unit 2B between Grand Forks and Fargo, where the department implemented a baiting ban in 2022 after CWD was found in a single whitetail buck shot during the fall of 2021 near Climax, Minn.

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Contributed/North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Baiting for deer is illegal statewide in Minnesota.

Some of the more vocal supporters of baiting during Wednesday night’s meeting in Bismarck questioned the science and whether baiting bans actually mitigate the spread of CWD. Others argued that baiting bans reduce the odds of young hunters shooting a deer.

Those who support the bans argued that baiting isn’t hunting – it’s killing. And so the discussion went – around and around and around.

Casey Anderson, wildlife chief for Game and Fish, said CWD prevalence rates in North Dakota are low, and the goal is to keep them that way.

“When we talk about baiting, the science behind how the disease spreads – CWD spreads through saliva and urine and feces from deer to deer,” Anderson said. “Those three ways have been proven.”

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The most effective way to keep deer from congregating is to reduce the opportunity for coming into close contact that baiting provides, he said.

“That’s where the baiting thing comes in,” Anderson said. “The question is, ‘Does baiting spread the disease exponentially faster or somewhat faster?’

“Honestly, at this point, we’re probably not going to stop it altogether,” Anderson said. “But what we don’t want to do is, we don’t want to get the disease to the point where it starts controlling our deer population for us, like they’ve been showing in some of the other herds across the nation.”

Peterson, the deputy Game and Fish director, said there was an effort during the 2007 legislative session to ban baiting statewide. The legislation ultimately failed but eventually led to the baiting ban on state and federal lands.

“That got somewhat contentious, and this may, as well,” Peterson said. “We’ll just see how that goes.”

Two meetings remain on the Game and Fish Department’s fall Advisory Board schedule. The meeting for District 3, which covers Benson, Cavalier, Eddy, Ramsey, Rolette and Towner counties, is set for 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5, at the Eagles Club, 7 Eighth St. S., New Rockford, N.D. The meeting for District 4 – Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina and Walsh counties – is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 6, at the American Legion Club, 701 Main St. W., Cavalier, N.D.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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