VELVA — Moments into the meeting it was readily apparent what was on the minds of many – a deer baiting ban enacted by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and upheld recently by the State Legislature.
At the District 2 Game and Fish Advisory Board Meeting, held at the Verendrye Electric building, was dominated by vocal opposition to the Game and Fish policy banning baiting over much of the state. Game and Fish maintains that the practice, used by many deer hunters, promotes the spread of chronic wasting disease.
CWD, which results in deer fatalities, is known to spread when deer are in close contact. While Game and Fish says they are doing what they can to combat the disease, others say it amounts to very little compared to deer bunching up and interacting in countless other ways.
House Bill 1151 proposed to take away Game and Fish authority to enact baiting bans where they identified the presence of CWD. The bill passed the House but was rejected in the Senate, meaning Game and Fish retains the authority to enact baiting bans in selected deer hunting units. The bill was a hot button issue, receiving more written comments than any other bill at the current legislative session.
It was not unexpected that the issue would be a hot topic at the Velva meeting. Rep. Paul Thomas, R-Dis. 6, Velva, introduced the bill and testified in favor of it.
One attendee told Game and Fish Director Jeb Williams, who chaired the meeting, that he knew six or seven landowners that previously allowed hunters access to 70,000 acres of land but “now won’t” due to the failure of HB1151.
Williams responded, “How do we be responsible and still do our job? There’s times when you make people mad, but you’ve got to do your job. Decisions are made that won’t sit with 100% of landowners.”
A landowner from the Towner area countered that, “Game and Fish needs to back off a little bit” and that closing some units to baiting and leaving others open to baiting was unexplainable.
“We still have folks that would like to see a statewide baiting ban,” said Williams. “We have people with very strong opinions on both sides of the issue.”
Several in attendance voiced their opposition to G&F’s baiting policy, so much so that it extended the length of the meeting by nearly a half hour.
Aerial Deer Surveys
Casey Anderson, wildlife division chief, gave an update on deer populations based on aerial surveys. Anderson explained that extensive snow cover made it possible to survey the entire state, which is not often the case in many winters.
“We’re down in our white-tailed deer surveys in a lot of units,” said Anderson. “We know the long winter hurt young of year recruitment. We’re flying mule deer now and that looks to be down too. We’re looking at a license decrease this year, for sure.”
Dave Fryda, North Central Fisheries District supervisor in Riverdale, told the gathering that there was more concern of lakes suffering winterkill that in a “long, long time.”
“One of the side effects of a tough winter is the bait shortage we have right now,” said Fryda. “We lost a lot of shallow wetlands to winterkill.”
Fryda listed several lakes where winterkill was possible. He said further assessments will be made once area lakes become ice free.
Williams added, “It’s been a pretty solid six months of winter. Just a perfect storm for winterkill. A lot of these prairie lakes just don’t have a lot of depth to them.”