May 2016
From Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries

Baiting vs. Feeding: Is it a matter of biology or sociology?

The baiting bill has become the Lazarus of wildlife legislation.

In the not-so-distant past when I was happily self-employed, spring was the most joyous time of year for me. I would work incredibly hard for nine or 10 months out of the year and enjoy the fruits of my labor during spring when I would turkey hunt as much as humanly possible.

Now, springtime is not such a wonderful time due to our Legislature being in session and the preparation needed for the Conservation Advisory Board meetings. The least favorite part of my job is dealing with legislation. Despite the fact that I don’t have a political bone in my body, it is a necessity of the position and I fully understand that.

 

Supplemental feeders remain legal for landowners and managers.

Each year since I’ve been thrust into the uncertain world of political life, there has been one constant: Baiting Bills. They have been on the committee schedule for the Legislature. Each year, they either die in committee or on the floor in either of the chambers with assurances that they will not resurface. But, like Lazarus, they come back from the dead, usually with slight tweaking of verbiage that will surely allow them to pass the next time.

This year is no exception. It’s back again, touting the need for baiting to enable handicapped children, wounded warriors and the elderly a better opportunity to harvest a deer or feral swine. In addition to these benefits, it’s also being sold as a way to reduce deer numbers in certain areas and help eradicate feral hogs.

For the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to take a stance on this issue is a no-win situation. The topic is extremely controversial. I get calls every day wanting my opinion on the subject. Each time I say, "I’m not getting involved," I get accused of helping the other side. Which side do they think I’m on? Well, it depends on who is calling, and the calls come in about 50/50 from both, proponents and opponents of baiting.

No matter which side I take, I’m going to make half of the people mad. Personally, I’m happy with the way things are. I thought the Commissioner and the Conservation Advisory Board made the ultimate compromise with both sides by passing the "Area Definition" Regulation in 2013. This allowed landowners and managers the ability to place supplemental feed on their property and still legally hunt as long as the feed was more than 100 yards from a stand/hunter and out of the direct line of sight. More importantly, it allowed them to trap feral hogs 365 days per year. But, apparently, this isn’t good enough for the proponents of baiting.

Since everyone knows I’m a biologist by trade, director by occupation and only play politician on necessary occasions, I get this statement thrown in my face quite frequently, "You know it’s biologically wrong to bait. Baiting spreads disease!" Okay, let me examine this as a biologist and the director.

Feeders must remain at least 100 yards from stands/hunters and be out of the line of sight.

 

Biologically, look at it this way. If a man has a severe cold and gets on an airplane from Montgomery to Atlanta, he has a much greater chance of giving that cold to many other people than if he walks into a football stadium. The same holds true for animals. If a sick animal is walking around in the woods by itself, it is less likely to make other animals sick than if they were all eating out of a trough or drinking from the same mud puddle. For example, each year we have deer die around the state from epizootic hemorrhagic disease. In years of severe drought, the casualties are greater due to the fact deer are congregated around small puddles of water. So, the idea that a congregation of animals could lead to an unhealthy environment is plausible, biologically. As the director, I’ll have to point out that most other Southern states allow baiting.

I also have to point out that according to statute it has been perfectly legal to feed in Alabama since the beginning of time. You just can’t hunt over it. So, how can I say feed placed at 101 yards and out of sight is okay and feed at 100 yards and in plain view is not? I can’t, biologically speaking. Feed is feed no matter where it is placed. So, take biology out of the equation unless you intend to attempt to change the statute that says it is legal to feed.

It blows my mind when I hear discussions taking place that baiting is biologically bad, but providing supplemental feed to animals on a property is not. Really, this is the basis for a logical argument?

The real question is a matter of sociology, politics or perhaps hunting ethics. It comes down to a simple choice of how one wants to hunt. So, let’s call a spade a spade and not cloud the topic. Some people feel hunters get an unfair advantage over animals if they are allowed to hunt over bait. However, others may say it has been proven, when baiting is allowed, deer harvest actually has gone down and not up. If I were an attorney arguing a case on Baiting vs. Non-Baiting, I could effectively argue both sides. My request of hunters and members of the non-hunting public is simple: Please just debate the facts, not opinion or personal agenda; and understand that our department is in a no-win situation on this subject. Actually, I don’t know if there is a winning side on this topic.

 

 

Chuck Sykes is director of the Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.