By Jeremy C. Nagel
Any mention of deer bait sends my mind to well-trafficked gas stations in places like Harrison and Brohman—the kind of places where seasonal, blaze-orange beer banners struggle to be seen under November’s pervasive grey overcast. Come fall, these places are practically barricaded with lumpy sacks crammed full of apples, beets and carrots. They’re stacked out by the unleaded pumps, not far from a hand-painted sign fashioned from a piece of scrap plywood and a can of Krylon. The sign reads “DEER BAIT,” and some of the letters might be off because it was someone’s cousin’s 7-year-old’s first time with spray paint.
Several years into my Farm Bureau career, the deer-baiting debate was stirred up by a resurgence of bovine tuberculosis in the northern Lower Peninsula. Once the dust settled, the resulting rules update struck me as complete nonsense: It remained perfectly legal to grow, package, sell and purchase bait; you just weren’t allowed to use it for, you know, baiting.
Maybe the state was expecting people to make pot pies or deer-bait smoothies out of it. Yuck.
Time passed and I thought little of it until I met a member in the Thumb who made a living—or at least part of his living—from the production and sale of deer bait commodities. It was an embarrassingly overdue eureka moment for me: Hey wait a sec—farmers grow this stuff!
Fast-forward to the early 21st century. On top of the TB that persists in the northeastern Lower Peninsula, now we also have CWD—chronic wasting disease—to worry about.
Confirmed in several downstate counties, CWD is a neurological condition that deteriorates the central nervous systems in cervids—members of the deer family, including the ubiquitous whitetail. Unlike bovine TB, it doesn’t spread to livestock, but it’s still a threat to the overall health and population of Michigan’s deer herd.
To reduce its spread, the Natural Resources Commission (NRC) last month approved a slew of new regulations, including an immediate ban on baiting and feeding in the 16-county CWD Management Zone (Calhoun, Clinton, Eaton, Gratiot, Hillsdale, Ingham, Ionia, Isabella, Jackson, Kent, Mecosta, Montcalm, Muskegon, Newaygo, Ottawa and Shiawassee counties)—followed by a ban encompassing the entire Lower Peninsula, effective Jan. 31, 2019.
That means the practice will be limited to the U.P.—and so will the market for all that bait previously sold in Harrison, Brohman and every other deer-country roadside north of M-46.
Farm Bureau has interests on all sides of the issue, and in this case it’s the bait growers—including plenty of dues-paying members—who are gonna take it on the chin. Representing a membership as diverse as the broad spectrum of Michigan farmers is a continual balancing act, and we all know it’s the nature of compromise that nobody leaves the table with exactly what they want.
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