Musician and outspoken Republican activist Ted Nugent was the star attraction at a state House committee meeting Tuesday morning, where he argued in fervent support of House Bill 4687 to lift the ban on certain deer and elk hunting regulations in the state.
“Banning feeding and baiting is a guaranteed destruction, further destruction, of this great heritage,” Nugent said.
Throughout his testimony, Nugent called the regulations “ridiculous,” “unacceptable,” “counterproductive” and “anti-science.”
Nugent’s testimony before the Michigan House Government Operations Committee was often tinged with emotion and anger as he defended the bill introduced by state Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton). The bill would once again allow hunters to engage in deer or elk baiting, which was banned by Michigan’s Natural Resources Commission last August.
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) stands in strong opposition to the legislation.
The baiting and feeding ban was issued in the hopes of preventing further spread of chronic wasting disease (CWD) in Michigan. CWD is a fatal neurological disease that affects members of the deer family, namely the white-tailed deer in Michigan. It is highly contagious among cervids, although scientists believe it cannot be passed along to humans.
Since CWD was first identified in Michigan almost a decade ago, it has appeared in numerous counties in the Lower Peninsula and one in the Upper Peninsula. As of January 2019, the Natural Resources Commission’s ban of baiting and feeding remains in effect throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and some of the Upper Peninsula.
Nugent, a Michigan resident, said what he has observed and experienced as a hunter in his 71 years is the “total opposite” of what scientists are saying. He believes that hunters, not scientists, should be in charge of writing the regulations.
“Deer are always swapping spit,” Nugent said. “… If a disease can be transmitted by nose-to-nose contact, there is not a damn thing you can do about it.”
Ed Golder, public information officer for the DNR, says the department’s stance on deer baiting is the result of thorough scientific research.
“We’ve got about 40-plus peer reviewed studies that address this question of baiting and how it adds to disease spread,” Golder says. “Peer reviewed research has shown that baiting and feeding beyond normal feeding patterns … greatly increases the likelihood of disease transmission.”
Golder said the risk for CWD to spread deer-to-deer is heightened when artificial congregation of deer — caused by baiting and feeding sites — occurs. He added that the authority to make decisions like the baiting ban should remain with the Natural Resources Commission.
Nugent, however, wasn’t swayed by the research. At several points, he called out the DNR directly and accused them of “losing their way.”
“Maybe the epidemiologists didn’t spend adequate time in the deer woods,” he said.
Nugent predicted fewer hunters will want to participate if the current hunting regulations are to remain, arguing that the laws are “going to chase hunting families out of the sport for absolutely no reason.”
Supporters of the bill also argued that putting too many regulations on hunting could lead to fewer active hunters, and in turn a larger deer population. Some argue that this could make the spread of CWD even more likely, since the deer-to-deer contact would be more frequent if there are more deer.
State Rep. Beau LaFave (R-Iron Mountain) is one of four co-sponsors of the bill. Like Nugent, LaFave also took issue with the science put forth by the DNR and NRC about the benefits of banning baiting and feeding.
“In my opinion, banning baiting and feeding is going to lead to the spread of CWD faster than if you bait them into a pile and shoot them,” LaFave said.
LaFave contended that making baiting and feeding illegal causes fewer hunters to be interested in the sport, leading to a heavier concentration of deer and a faster spread of disease.
“Part of the problem with Chronic Wasting Disease is not the disease itself, but rather the response that it triggers in the hunting community,” said LaFave. “When you tell hunters that there’s this awful disease that turns deer into zombies … you make it so hunters don’t want to go hunting anymore.”
LaFave also argued that the ban disproportionately affects seniors and disabled people, for whom hunting can prove much more challenging without the ability to bait and feed game.