An executive order signed by Gov. Nathan Deal in April took the Northern Zone deer baiting hot potato away from the state legislature and handed it to DNR.
Now the Board is preparing to act on a DNR proposal that makes hunting deer over bait with no distance restriction legal for all private-land hunters in Georgia. The Board can’t change the baiting law or do away with the Northern/Southern Zone line—only the legislature can do that—but the Board can change where that line is drawn.
“The (DNR) proposal was to increase parity for hunters across the state by making the Northern Zone the Chattahoochee National Forest and the Southern Zone would be anything outside of that,” said Wes Robinson, the DNR’s director of Public and Governmental Affairs.
The baiting regulations only apply to private land anyway, so the DNR proposal would legalize baiting statewide on all private land. The National Forest is public land where baiting would have been illegal regardless. The DNR proposal is basically a creative way to legalize hunting deer over bait statewide and bypass the political wrangling that went on in the legislature.
Currently, baiting is still legal in the Southern Zone, while hunters in the Northern Zone face fines for hunting within 200 yards or within sight of placed feed.
But that could change within days.
The next DNR Board meeting is Wednesday, June 27. For updates on whether the Board passes the proposal, check here at gon.com for timely updates.
DNR held two public meetings on deer feeding/baiting last week. In Rome, 89 people attended, and 85 were in favor of DNR’s proposal. In Thomson, 44 people attended, and 41 were in favor of doing away with the distance restriction for deer hunters over bait. The past two GON surveys showed 70 to 80 percent support for doing away with the hunting-over-feed distance restriction. But there’s still ardent opposition to allowing Northern Zone deer hunters to have the same rules and regulations that hunters in the southern half of the state have had since 2011.
The Georgia Wildlife Federation recently sent a letter to all DNR Board members urging them to vote against the current proposal that would allow hunting deer over feed statewide on private land. That letter was signed by several former Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) leaders.
Also, at the top of the GWF website, there’s an action alert asking people to email DNR, “and ask them not to expand the shooting of deer over bait in GA.”
For decades, the GWF has spoken on behalf of sportsmen to legislators and policy makers. Mike Worley, GWF’s president and CEO, said the organization and its legislative advocacy arm, the Camo Coalition, have always opposed baiting.
“Same battle, different venue,” Mike said about the GWF letter to the Board. “The stance against hunting over bait by the Georgia Wildlife Federation has never waived.”
When asked if that includes a stance that baiting in the current Southern Zone should also be banned, Mike said, “As an organization, and as a group really interested in the professional science-based management of our wildlife and our habitats and our heritage, we’re opposed to baiting. The peer-reviewed science is consistent with that. You’ve got QDMA that appears consistent with that. We’ve got both old and new disease threats that are consistent with the fact that we shouldn’t be doing it. So, if I could wave a magic wand, I would say yes, I would do away with baiting across the whole state.
“But I’m certainly opposed to the expansion of it,” Mike added.
When asked if disease threats mentioned by those opposed to baiting also apply to supplemental feeding and mineral supplements, Mike said that allowing shooting over bait dramatically increases the amount of feed in the woods over what’s typically put out for supplemental feeding.
However, he said, “If you want to be 100 percent consistent, supplemental feeding would be a challenge, too.”
Mike also expressed concern over how divisive the baiting issue has become for Georgia hunters.
“The truth is, we’re all on the same team,” he said.
“As much as we now take it for granted that there will always be hunting opportunities for deer like we have now—very long seasons, liberal bag limits, great hunting—there might not be in the future. I remember in my lifetime when there wasn’t. We need to protect this.”
Below is the entire letter sent to Chairman McWhorter and the members of the DNR Board from the Georgia Wildlife Federation. The letter was also signed by:
• Todd Holbrook: retired president and CEO, Georgia Wildlife Federation; retired WRD Game Management Chief, and retired DNR Deputy Commissioner.
• David Waller: retired president and CEO, Georgia Wildlife Federation; retired WRD director.
• Dan Forster: retired WRD director.
• Larry McSwain: retired WRD assistant director.
• Kevin McKinstry: recreation manager/certified wildlife biologist, The Westervelt Company.
An Executive Order was signed by Governor Deal on April 9, 2018 directing the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to “evaluate and determine an appropriate expansion of the Southern Zone (as it relates to shooting deer over bait) and present such findings to the Board for action based on sound wildlife management principles.” Governor Deal and his administration have done remarkably good work in protecting and conserving lands for future generations and have provided funding for wildlife conservation through enhanced fees on hunting and fishing licenses. However, this Executive Order is counter to “sound wildlife management principles”, is contrary to virtually all peer reviewed wildlife science and is bad for hunters, hunting and our deer herd.
The community of wildlife professionals, in as close to unanimity as one can get in science, is opposed to baiting of wildlife in all but a few exceptions. One will be hard pressed to find any “sound wildlife management principle” that supports sport shooting deer over bait. Wildlife experts in our own state have historically opposed baiting deer. Additionally, the methodology embodied in the Executive Order process ignores decades of successful wildlife management by professionals.
No less than three legislative initiatives to expand the killing of deer over bait were attempted in the 2018 General Assembly, none of which were able to receive the necessary consensus for passage. It seems odd that immediately following a session where the Legislature could not/would not deal with the issue, and when engagement from the Department’s wildlife professionals was conspicuously absent, you are faced with a very unusual attempt through an Executive Order to impose expanded baiting.
In the face of consistent professional opposition to hunting deer over bait, Georgia has traditionally dealt with the shooting of deer over bait as a legislative matter. As suggested by the Executive Order’s reference to HB 277 from 2011, shooting deer over bait was approved in a portion of the state by the General Assembly despite long-standing concerns by Georgia’s wildlife professionals.
The Executive Order maintains Georgia has seen no evidence of impact to deer herd health or harvest numbers. It implies there is no direct link to disease vectoring via baiting. The Order fails to explain that seldom does one make such findings about deer health unless one is looking for those things. DNR has specifically not looked for any linkage to deer herd health since 2011. Furthermore, research shows the concentration of animals in small areas such as bait stations leads to more rapid transmission of diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease and Bovine Tuberculosis. Baiting doesn’t cause these diseases, but it certainly does facilitate the rapid spread of disease.
Contrary to the Order’s position, the majority of professional peer reviewed science indicates there is a decrease in deer harvest with killing over bait. Some research even shows a reduction in hunter efficacy because the deer become more nocturnal. Georgia’s harvest numbers from the 2011-12 deer season and the 2012-13 deer season appear consistent with those findings (subsequent years contained other variables and were not reliable for extrapolation).
The Executive Order states that “In 2011, HB 277 was enacted providing a framework for hunters in this state practicing supplemental feeding”. This misstatement appears to be an attempt to distract from the issue of hunting deer over bait. Supplemental feeding rules for deer were not changed by HB 277 and were an option legally afforded for deer management throughout the state, and it continues to be an option. Wildlife professionals make clear distinction between supplemental feeding and baiting.
By the Executive Order’s own reference, there exists an inequity between the northern and southern zone hunters. This inequity, however, is not the result of professional wildlife management recommendations associated with deer population and abundance. As such, it should be abundantly clear that this is NOT a sound wildlife management principle, but rather a social/political issue.
Deer are browse animals, unaccustomed to a diet of corn, which is by far the most predominant bait used. High consumption of corn can be harmful to deer. Furthermore, the huge amounts of corn in the landscape associated with killing deer over bait brings challenges with nuisance wildlife such as raccoons, opossums, and even promotes expansion of feral hog populations. Consider that this proposal includes areas in north Georgia, where DNR even discourages backyard bird feeders for fear of habituating bears to people. Property owners will have no protection from nuisance wildlife problems created by aggressive baiting by their neighbors. Different land use patterns in North Georgia of smaller tracts, national forests, more roads, and more people exacerbate potential conflicts for the hunting community and landowners.
In short, the shooting of deer over bait is bad for hunters, hunting and our deer herd. Surveys indicate the general public objects to baiting; therefore the Executive Order is certainly not a recipe for recruiting new hunters or in advancing our hunting heritage. Hunters become dependent upon bait stations rather than understanding and appreciating their quarry. Deer have to deal with a non-native feed, they are subject to rapid expansion of disease, and they may exceed the carrying capacity of the land. Studies indicate increased deer/car collisions in areas where baiting is practiced because deer become more nocturnal, they become more concentrated near roads (where bait stations tend to be deployed), and they may become habituated to humans. Studies also indicate baiting concentrates predators around bait stations and baiting certainly encourages the expansion of nuisance and invasive animals.
We, the undersigned, encourage you to critically consider the impact of how you implement this Order. Consider the science and the “sound wildlife management principles” that it ignores. Perhaps even ask yourself why professional wildlife biologists are not the ones recommending baiting. Ignoring any principle of sound wildlife management, this proposal damages the integrity of our Department by disregarding wildlife professionals and by usurping our own 2015-2024 Georgia Deer Management Plan; a plan developed through broad scaled public input and approved by Commissioner Williams.
We encourage you to join with us in opposition to the expansion of killing deer over bait.
President & CEO
Georgia Wildlife Federation
Letter Signed By: Todd Holbrook, Dan Forster, David Waller, Larry McSwain, Kevin McKinstry
Back during the legislative session, the Georgia Wildlife Federation (GWF) partnered with QDMA to oppose legislation that would have make hunting deer over feed legal statewide. In that letter to legislators, QDMA and GWF said they opposed deer baiting citing the following reasons:
• Baiting has the potential to accelerate transmission of diseases such as chronic wasting disease (CWD), bovine tuberculosis and several others. This is especially significant given the recent discovery of CWD in Mississippi, the closest state to Georgia to find CWD in its herd. This discovery increased the number of states with CWD to 25. As is so often in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (especially as there is NO CURE for the always lethal CWD).
• Surveys reveal that the majority of the hunting and non-hunting public objects to shooting over bait.
• Research confirms that baiting increases deer movement/feeding at night and does not increase hunter success.
• Predators have been shown to key in on feed sites to ambush deer – thus increasing deer mortality rates.
• Baiting increases reproduction/spread of nuisance animals such as feral hogs and raccoons.
QDMA also opposed legislation to legalize deer and hog hunting over bait in Alabama this year, citing reasons similar to those above but also stating: Legalization of baiting has been shown to create both “offensive” and “defensive” baiting situations among neighboring hunters, thus increasing conflicts.