BATTLE CREEK ENQUIRER (MI) http://www.battlecreekenquirer.com/article/20081116/SPORTS/811160327
Season of change
Darren Warner • For the Enquirer • November 16, 2008
The 2008 firearm deer season opened under a veil of change and suspicion among hunters and non-hunters alike in Michigan.
"I am very concerned about the future of hunting for Michigan," said rocker and avid deer hunter Ted Nugent. "We have taken the spirit of hunting and put it in the hands of the bureaucrats."
Many hunters share Nugent's apprehension. Depending on who you ask, the source of all the concern is either chronic wasting disease (CWD), or how the Departments of Agriculture and Natural Resources have responded to it.
After the discovery of a doe stricken with CWD at a private cervid facility in Kent County, the Department of Agriculture (MDA) issued a ban on all baiting in the lower peninsula. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) was charged with enforcing the ban.
Fewer hunters are expected to take to the woods this year, partly due to the baiting ban. While the DNR anticipates only a slight reduction in number of deer hunters this year, don't tell that to Jennifer Ross (Harrison), who sells licenses at Jay's Sporting Goods in Clare. "We have sold between 20 and 25 percent fewer deer licenses this year compared to last year."
Besides lost revenue from hunting licenses, the ban is expected to cost farmers and those who grow and sell deer feed millions of dollars.
"We knew this was the worst possible time to implement a ban," said Dr. Steve Halstead, State Veterinarian for the MDA. "But the timing of when we discovered a deer with CWD was something we had no control over."
Some say the DNR and MDA have gone too far by banning baiting in the entire lower peninsula, given that only one privately owned deer tested positive. Numbers literally change daily, but the DNR has tested about 2,400 deer; the MDA, 2,300. No other deer has tested positive.
State officials are following a plan developed in 2002 to limit the spread of CWD among white-tailed deer and elk in the state. Part of that plan calls for a ban on all baiting in the peninsula in which CWD is discovered.
Some scientists have criticized the plan, countering that it is based on what was known about CWD in 2002. "They [the DNR] are following a plan developed by Dr. Mike Miller for handling CWD in Colorado," said Jeffrey Powers, DVM on Beaver Island. "We have learned a lot about CWD since the 2002 Michigan plan was developed and how it does not affect the overall population of deer by looking at Wisconsin. There is no scientific evidence that CWD will run rampant if feeding and baiting are allowed."
Hunters and the public have also questioned the validity of the test results, as they have not been made available to the public, nor has the name of the facility where the doe was found.
"The Michigan Animal Industry Act of 1988 [Public Act 466] protects the identity of owners if CWD is discovered at their facility," said Halstead. "We interpret the act to mean that we are not to release the name of the owner or facility."
Perhaps one of the most unfortunate consequences of the ban is that some have turned it into a debate over the ethics of baiting deer for hunting, rather than one about the legitimacy of the ban. Those against baiting tell hunters who bait they need to find another way to hunt. Hunters who bait say there is no difference between putting out food for deer and planting a food plot, or using calls and scents, for that matter.
To me, the firearm deer season is a special time for hunters and their families in Michigan - one that should not be reduced to bickering over differing hunting practices.
Opening morning is a tidal wave of emotions hitting hunters when they awaken and travel to their blind or stand. Brimming with anticipation and hope, all of us wonder What will I see today? Is this the year I get a monster buck?
Opening day unfolds under skies that the mind's eye sees as blue, regardless of their actual color. And before you know it, opening day is over, and all that's left is the telling of stories - about the buck harvested, or the one that got away.
Deer hunting is also about passing on hunting traditions and teaching younger hunters safe hunting practices. Whether you eat the same meal at dinner after opening day (as my family does) or you wear your lucky hunting socks, traditions matter to hunters.
If any of this sounds familiar, then you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Michiganians who share a passion - a passion for deer hunting. We all belong to an exclusive fraternity of hunters. And like brothers who sometimes disagree, we can look past our differences because the love for hunting we share is far more powerful than things that divide us.