TAWAS CITY – The Iosco County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to take a stance against any ban of deer baiting in Iosco County, citing economic concerns with the practice.
This was after a proposed recommendation by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to ban all deer baiting in the lower peninsula to help combat chronic wasting disease (CWD) in the deer population.
Before the county vote, Ed Beckley, owner of Beckley’s M-55 Bait Shop in Whittemore, voiced his concerns on an outright ban on deer baiting in the state. He said the move by the state would not only economically impact his business, but hurt tourism in the region and harm other bait sellers and businesses that rely on hunting.
He argued that CWD is not harmful to populations of deer and other cervid species.
“In 1967 the first case of CWD was found in Colorado, a mule deer, they said it was going to wipe out the herds, today there is more elk in that area than there ever were,” he said. “There are tens of millions that have been wasted on this disease.”
Beckley said that CWD is called a “political disease” and by the DNR’s own statistics, although thousands of deer have been tested for CWD only a handful of the animals have ever actually been suspected of even having it.
He asked the board to pass a resolution, like one that was similarly passed to show non-support for a baiting ban for bovine tuberculosis, by the commissioners.
“We don’t want to ban baiting,” he said. “It’s 60 percent of my revenue every year.”
Beckley said farmers who grow bait crops, such as sugar beets, get more per ton from local bait sellers than they would selling their crop to sugar factories in Bay City.
He added that although was not an expert he had read up a lot on the disease. Commissioner Terry Dutcher asked about the mule deer populations in Colorado when CWD was first discovered there. Beckley said to his knowledge the population has stayed the same. He said from his research that most animals affected with CWD take a long time to die from the disease.
“The thing with the disease it takes 16 to 33 months for it to incubate, it takes four to six years to kill an animal, and in the wild herds, how many deer do you think live to that age?” he said.
Commissioner Donald Jay O’Farrell asked where the cases of CWD were showing up at. Beckley said most of the cases have been downstate and not in northern Michigan. He alleged that most of the baiting ban pressure was coming from the Michigan United Conservation Club, which is pressuring the Natural Resources Commission to do the ban.
Commissioner Mark McKulsky said that he has seen a lot of deer around, more than he’s seen in years.
Beckley said he is working on getting information out to businesses and others and said if the ban were ever imposed the area would lose an estimated 45 percent of hunters.
O’Farrell asked if Beckley had an organized group. He said he is just in the starting stages and said he is working to talk to state legislators to work the issue and voice concerns.
County Administrator/Treasurer Elite Shellenbarger said the board needed to act quickly with a resolution.
“The problem is we have to act on this early because they meet and set the regulation and they are set to vote on this in August,” he said.
McKulsky said he saw how it could impact many different businesses, not just places that sell bait, but grocery stores, lodging, equipment retailers and others.
“This is a trickle down thing on the baiting because everyone makes money,” he said. “It brings a lot of income in to a lot of folks.”
O’Farrell motioned that the county should take the position that it is not in favor or support of a deer baiting ban in Iosco County. Commissioner Terry Dutcher seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.