Port: If you care about hunting, oppose legislation taking away the state's ability to regulate deer baiting
"A bill before the Legislature in Bismarck ... would remove from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department their authority to regulate deer baiting. ... This is foolishness."
MINOT, N.D. — I'll preface this column by saying that, in the hunting tradition I grew up in, baiting animals is anathema. It's not considered sporting. Something akin to shooting fish in a barrel.
Still, I understand that, for some, baiting is a part of their hunting tradition. For others, particularly guides and those who own lucrative hunting lands, it's about profits.
For better or worse, deer baiting is legal in North Dakota. Whether or not it should be is a question for another day.
At the very least, we should all agree that baiting should be subject to prudent regulation by our state's game and fish officials to protect wildlife populations and production agriculture. Deer baiting can exacerbate the spread of animal ailments such as chronic wasting disease, which are a threat to deer populations, or bovine tuberculosis, which can harm both deer and cattle.
A bill before the Legislature in Bismarck, sponsored by Rep. Paul Thomas, a Republican from Velva, would remove from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department their authority to regulate deer baiting. The legislation, House Bill 1151 , does that and nothing else. It contains exactly one sentence: "The department may not issue rules or adopt a policy or practice prohibiting the baiting of deer for lawful hunting."
This is foolishness.
Deer baiting restrictions are sometimes imposed "as a way to slow down the spread of disease," Dr. Charlie Bahnson, a wildlife veterinarian who works for the game and fish department, said on a recent episode of my Plain Talk podcast .
If you were to peruse online hunting forums, you'd likely find posts from hunters in our region accusing the game and fish department of merely being anti-baiting. State officials don't like the practice, they argue, and so they use their administrative powers to inhibit it.
"I would push back on that pretty strongly," Dr. Bahnson told me during our interview. "We're not in the business of regulating ethics around hunting."
"I'd like nothing more than to never talk about baiting again," he added. "I don't like to stir the pot."
I believe Dr. Bahnson, but even if you don't, even if you believe that state officials have been acting capriciously against the practice of baiting, is a stark prohibition on any baiting regulation at all the answer?
Disease among wildlife is a real threat. Diseases that can cross over from wildlife to domesticated animals are a threat, too, with an enormous potential impact on animal agriculture, one of our state's most important industries. Our state's officials must be able to address and mitigate those risks, even if it means inconveniencing hunters and hunting industry profits at times.
Hunters and landowners aggrieved by how the game and fish department has regulated baiting do have recourse. Jeb Williams, the current director of the game and fish department, is a member of Gov. Doug Burgum's cabinet. He's accountable to an elected official.
Solutions should be sought through that process. Not through the elimination of one of the tools the state has to protect not just wildlife populations for future generations but also the agriculture industry.