North Dakota

If you care about hunting, oppose legislation taking away the state’s ability to regulate deer baiting

MINOT, ND – I will preface this column by saying that chasing animals is an abomination in the hunting tradition in which I was raised. It is not considered athletic. Something like shooting fish in a barrel.

However, I understand that for some, baiting is part of their hunting tradition. For others, especially guides and those who own lucrative hunting grounds, it’s all about profit.

For better or worse, deer baiting is legal in North Dakota. Whether it should be is a question for another day.

At the very least, we should all agree that baits should be subject to prudent regulation by our state’s wildlife and fisheries departments to protect wildlife populations and agricultural production. Baiting deer can exacerbate the spread of animal diseases such as chronic wasting disease, which poses a threat to deer populations, or bovine tuberculosis, which can harm both deer and cattle.

A bill before the Bismarck Legislature sponsored by Rep. Paul Thomas, a Republican from Velva, would strip North Dakota’s Department of Game and Fish the authority to regulate deer baiting. The legislation, House Bill 1151, does this and nothing else. It contains exactly one sentence: “The Department shall not issue any rule or adopt any policy or practice prohibiting the baiting of deer for legal hunting.”

That’s stupid.

Restrictions on deer baiting are sometimes imposed “to slow the spread of disease,” said Dr. Charlie Bahnson, a wildlife vet who works for the game and fish department, in a recent episode of my Plain Talk podcast.

If you were to search online hunting forums you would likely find posts from hunters in our area accusing the game and fish department of being anti-bait only. State officials don’t like the practice, they argue, and so they use their administrative powers to prevent it.

“I would push that back pretty hard,” Dr. Bahnson during our interview. “We’re not in the business of regulating ethics around hunting.”

“I would love nothing more than never to talk about baiting again,” he added. “I don’t like stirring the pot.”

I believe dr Bahnson, but even if you don’t, even if you believe that state officials have been capricious about the practice of baiting, is an outright ban on all baiting regulations even the answer?

Disease among wild animals is a real threat. Diseases that can spread from wild animals to domesticated animals are also a threat with a huge potential impact on livestock, one of our state’s most important industries. Our state officials must be able to address and mitigate these risks, even if sometimes doing so means penalizing hunters and hunting industry profits.

Hunters and landowners who are saddened by how the game and fish department has regulated baiting can find relief. Jeb Williams, the current director of the game and fish department, is a member of Gov. Doug Burgum’s cabinet. He is accountable to an elected official.

Solutions should be sought in this process. Not by getting rid of any of the tools the state has to protect not only wildlife populations for future generations, but also agriculture.

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