By CAROLINE BECK, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday voted to allow people to use bait when hunting deer and feral hogs, for a fee.
House Bill 197 allows for baiting of white tail deer and feral pigs on private and leased lands for a $14 annual “bait privilege license fee” and a $1 issuance fee. Out-of-state hunters would pay $50.
“We have concerns about Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) and we also have concerns about the current law and there is an opportunity with this bill to be used as a tool for (the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources),” bill sponsor Rep. Danny Crawford, R-Athens, said.
The bill was approved 85-10 and now goes to the Senate, where a similar version of the bill passed last week. The two chambers could form a conference committee to work out differences between the two versions before sending it to the governor’s desk.
Current regulations say hunters can use “supplemental feed” when hunting deer as long as it is placed at least 100 yards from where they are aiming and not in the direct line of sight. That rule has been confusing, proponents for the legislation said.
The bill lead to some discussion on the House floor about sportsmanship.
“If I was a hunter, I would want to really hunt them. Not bait them,” said Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham. “It’s not any fun if you just bait them. If you’re a hunter and want the thrill of hunting and not just shooting them. That’s like shooting Bambi. They’re just trying to get a meal, and then you’ll just go and shoot poor Bambi.”
He voted for the bill.
Rep. David Wheeler, R- Vestavia Hills, voted against it.
“I didn’t have any animosity towards the bill, it just didn’t sit right with me,” he said later. “I knew it was going to pass so it just didn’t sit right particularly with me.”
Like hunting seasons, deer-baiting debates have become annual events in the State House, but legislation eventually stalls.
New in the bill this year is the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ ability to end baiting in case diseases are found in the state’s deer population. The bill says the state conservation commissioner may, without refund, suspend the use of a baiting privilege license on a county, regional, or statewide basis to prevent the spread of diseases. It also gives Conservation the ability to adopt rules about feeding of wild animals.
Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said the agency isn’t opposed to the bill.
“We’re working on many fronts to keep Chronic Wasting Disease out of our state,” Blakenship said. The importation of live deer was banned several years ago and since last year, whole deer harvested in other states can’t be transported to Alabama.
“(Hunters) can bring back de-boned meat,” Blankenship said.
Regular testing of harvested deer is also happening to monitor for the disease.
Chronic wasting disease is fatal and affects the central nervous system of deer, causing them to become emaciated and display abnormal behavior. It is not known to be transmissible to humans or domestic livestock, according to Conservation. It’s been found in 25 states.
The Alabama Wildlife Federation is opposed to baiting.
“It increases the chance for disease transmission and spread among deer and other wildlife,” the group’s website says. “Wildlife research has shown that baiting deer causes them to unnaturally concentrate around baited areas.”
Rep. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, abstained from the vote saying she needed more information.
“I voted that way because I was confused, because when they approached us about the bill, their main thing was about the disease part, the (chronic wasting disease). But what confused me was that they said that if you do the feeding, that could control the disease from spreading…
“I don’t see any control of the disease in this bill, there has got to be something more for how they will treat the disease in my opinion.”
Crawford pointed out that feeding is already happening under current regulations and Conservation has less control over it.
Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Greenhill, voted for the bill and said he discussed it with Conservation.
“I live up in the corner of the state and Mississippi and Tennessee have already had (chronic wasting disease) and we don’t want it coming into Alabama,” Pettus said.
Rep. Lynn Greer, R-Rogersville, was a co-sponsor.
“We’ve seen it in northeast Mississippi, so it’s not that far from home,” said bill co-sponsor Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette.
South said the likes the chronic wasting disease protections in the bill. He said he’s “not ecstatic” about the fee.
“We already pay to hunt,” South said. “But most of the feedback from back home is that people are willing to pay it.”
Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, voted against the bill.
“It’s not hunting,” he said. “If this is a sport and we’re trying to protect the integrity of it, then let’s do that.”
Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Livingson, who also represents part of Tuscaloosa County, raised several questions about the bill on the House floor but eventually voted for it.
“This isn’t hunting, it’s not teaching a skill,” McCampbell said. “This is teaching people to be ambushers.”
McCampbell said he was for the baiting of feral hogs.
“They do a whole lot of damage to agriculture industry in Alabama,” he said. “We do need a process to eradicate that problem.”
Feral hogs can be hunted year round without limit.
Their high reproductive rates, lack of natural predators, voracious omnivorous feeding habits, destructive rooting behavior and habitat destruction are just a few reasons why Alabama sportsmen and land managers are encouraged to kill them, according the Conservation.
A fiscal note on this year’s bill said it could reduce money collected by Conservation by about $146,000 in fines each year. But that number could be offset by hunters paying the baiting fees.
Sen. Jack Williams, R-Wilmer, is carrying the bill in the Senate.