'Hunting over bait' proposal draws opposition of former Georgia officials
Posted May 31, 2018 4:18 p.m. EDT
ATLANTA -- A group of former state wildlife officials is taking aim at an executive order by Gov. Nathan Deal that would expand a controversial hunting practice.
The head of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, joined by four retired high-ranking Department of Natural Resources leaders, warned that Deal's April order involving hunting deer over bait could have harmful long-term environmental consequences.
To opponents, baiting deer transforms hunting from a skill to just a kill. They say the practice makes it easier for hunters to rack up deer kills each hunting season. It also means bigger profits for landowners who run South Georgia's huge hunting plantations as well as more money for the grain distributors looking to sell more corn.
However, Reggie Dickey, the president of the Georgia Hunting and Fishing Federation, said "that's a myth that was put out by people who are against it to begin with."
"It's not the magic bullet like people think it is where you put out feed and shoot deer," Dickey said. "It doesn't work that way."
Opponents also say baiting deer could lead to more rapid transmission of disease, contribute to the spread of pests and reduce the overall number of deer killed.
Dickey, who lives in Effingham County, said feeding the animals allows members of private hunting clubs to better manage their herd.
"You're keeping the deer healthy," he said. "And you're killing a lot bigger deer with bigger racks than we used to."
Legislation passed in 2011 allows hunters in a "southern zone" -- counties stretching across Georgia from Harris to Burke and south to the border -- to hunt deer within 200 yards of a feed station while those in a "northern zone" were barred from doing so.
The governor's order authorized the state Natural Resources Board -- whose members he largely appointed -- to find an "appropriate" expansion of the southern zone.
The board is considering a proposal to allow baiting to be done on private hunting grounds statewide other than those located within the Chattahoochee National Forest. The board is taking public comments through June 26, with hearings scheduled for June 19 in Rome and June 20 in Thomson.
In the letter to the board, Mike Worley of the Georgia Wildlife Federation and his allies say changing the regulation defies "consistent professional opposition" to an expansion, and it noted a series of failed legislative attempts to expand the practice.
The letter urges the board to "critically consider" the impact of Deal's order.
"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," they wrote.
DNR spokesman Wes Robinson said changing the rule would give all hunters the same right to do what they wish on their property.
"The department's proposed rule simply allows for hunters across the state to hunt as close to that feed as they would like to while on private property -- a privilege currently granted to South Georgians but not North Georgians," he said.
Deal's office did not comment, but in his order, the governor said state officials "found no evidence that hunting over feed" has had a direct impact on the number of deer killed or led to more disease. It also cited "inequity" between hunters in different parts of the state.
Jerry Brinkley, with the Doodle Hill Hunting Club in McDuffie County, said while he personally would not hunt deer over bait, he believes if the practice is allowed anywhere in Georgia, it should be allowed everywhere.
"I think if it's good for the southern zone, it should be good for the northern zone," he said. "Either have it legal for the entire state or do away with it altogether."
Worley and the other wildlife experts say high amounts of corn can be harmful to deer, that aggressive baiting could lead to the spread of more feral hogs and other "nuisance" animals, and that the practice could lead to more deer collisions with cars if spread to more densely populated areas.
"In short, the shooting of deer over bait is bad for hunters, hunting and our deer herd," Worley and the former officials wrote.
"Consider the science and the 'sound wildlife management principles' that it ignores," they added. "Perhaps even ask yourself why professional wildlife biologists are not the ones recommending baiting."
The board is expected to discuss the rule change at its June 27 meeting. Deer hunting season begins in September.
The Department of Natural Resources Board is considering a proposal to allow the hunting of deer over bait to be done on private hunting grounds statewide other than those located within the Chattahoochee National Forest. The board is taking public comments through June 26.
It also has scheduled two hearings:
June 19 in Rome.
June 20 in Thomson.
The board is expected to discuss the proposal at its June 27 meeting.
Maya T. Prabhu and Greg Bluestein write for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Email: maya.prabhu(at)ajc.com, gbluestein(at)ajc.com.
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