Whitmer unlikely to take Legislature’s deer bait

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Updated, 1:44 p.m. 11/14/19 with comments from Gov. Whitmer

As a nod to hunters before firearm deer season kicks off Friday, the Michigan Senate on Wednesday approved a bill allowing deer baiting backed by singer and GOP activist Ted Nugent.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visits Smuts Farms in Charlotte, Michigan | Michael Gerstein

HB 4687, sponsored by state Rep. Michele Hoitenga (R-Manton), passed Wednesday on a mostly party-line 21-14 vote, but didn’t earn immediate effect. The bill passed the House on a mostly party-line 57-49 vote last week. Senate changes made to the bill include a two-year sunset. The legislation has one more step before going to the governor’s desk, as it returns to the House for final approval.

However, the legislation doesn’t appear to have much of a future, as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer spokeswoman Tiffany Brown told the Advance her boss opposes it. On Thursday after this story’s publication, Brown emailed that Whitmer will veto the bill:

“The governor remains fully committed to protecting wildlife, public health, while protecting Michigan’s agriculture economy. HB 4687 would have increased the chance of the spread of wildlife disease within wildlife populations and the beef and dairy industries, all of which are critical to Michigan’s economic success. The authority to ban baiting and feeding should remain with the Natural Resources Commission, the body responsible for regulating the method and manner of taking game species in Michigan. Peer-reviewed research has shown that baiting and feeding concentrate wildlife beyond their normal movement patterns and increases the likelihood of disease transmission. By leaving the deer baiting ban in place, the state will continue to curb the spreading of diseases like Chronic Wasting Disease.”*

The state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also opposes the bill, noting dozens of scientific studies that it could encourage the spread of chronic wasting disease in deer.

“We’ve got about 40-plus peer reviewed studies that address this question of baiting and how it adds to disease spread,” said DNR spokesman Ed Golder at a state House hearing this fall. “Peer reviewed research has shown that baiting and feeding beyond normal feeding patterns … greatly increases the likelihood of disease transmission.”

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, Sept. 19, 2019 | Nick Manes

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) not surprisingly, took a different view than the governor, noting he was “an avid bow hunter and deer hunter. My wife says I’m a rabid deer hunter.”

“I don’t see any problem with deer baiting whatsoever,” Shirkey continued in a scrum with reporters after session. “How many of you would go fishing without a worm on your hook? And there’s plenty of room to challenge the so-called sound science. And I have, like I’ve said, I’m a student of the species. And if you’d spent as much time as I do in the woods, and watched them [deer] lick every part of their bodies back and forth, you’d conclude the same thing I’ve concluded — the so-called sound science is a little spurious.”

Nugent wants deer-baiting ban lifted, bashes wildlife officials and scientists

In September, Nugent gave colorful testimony to a House panel in which he bashed scientists and said deer baiting is important for the “heritage” of hunting. Throughout his testimony, Nugent called the regulations “ridiculous,” “unacceptable,” “counterproductive” and “anti-science.”

Advance reporter Nick Manes contributed to this story.

Susan J. Demas is a 19-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.