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Guest Blog

In support of supplemental feeding

Thu, May 17, 2018

By DON HIGGINS

When State Senator Chapin Rose introduced SB-2493 which would make supplemental feeding of deer legal outside of hunting season in Illinois, I fully expected the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to oppose it. I expected the bill to have less than a 25 percent chance of passing. I also expected some opponents to the legislation.

What I didn’t expect was the vocal minority from within the hunting community voicing opposition based on false claims and untrue assumptions. Maybe it is time to shed some light on why the majority of Illinois deer hunters support this legislation by first exposing some myths that are currently being promoted by those opposing it.

Myth 1 –

This legislation is a step towards eventually allowing baiting during hunting season in Illinois.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I am one of the most outspoken proponents of SB-2493 for reasons that I will discuss later in this article. However, I would be the most adamantly opposed citizen in the entire state against any legislation at any point in the future that would allow baiting during hunting season in Illinois and most who support SB-2493 feel the same way. This false narrative is simply a ploy by those opposing this legislation to stir up others including legislators, hoping they will take the same position. Don’t believe it for a second! I am not aware of any group in the state that would support baiting during hunting season. That is a completely different issue with almost zero support.

Myth 2 –

Supplemental feeding spreads disease and science proves it.

Really? The only research that anyone has been able to direct me to are merely opinions promoted via pseudo-scientific literature, not factual research backed up with real data. I have searched diligently for any research that details an actual study done by a recognized university or research group and proves “X number of animals contracted X-disease at a supplemental feeding site.” Show me the research that shows “at X location X number of supplemental feeding sites were maintained and at the end of X number of years it was shown that X number of animals contracted X disease.” This idea is nothing more than opinion that has never been proven.

Let’s take this one step further and consider the fact that since 2002, when CWD was first found east of the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, many wildlife biologists and scientists have shifted their opinion on the disease and how it should be dealt with. CWD is proving to not be the death sentence to wild deer herds that many first feared.

Without a doubt EHD (epizootic hemorrhagic disease) kills hundreds if not thousands of times more deer annually than CWD. Many Illinois deer hunters remember the devastating EHD outbreak the state experienced in 2012. Modern nutrition may be able to help land managers save deer from EHD and possibly also help with CWD. Research is showing a correlation between nutrient deficiencies and CWD incident rates. There is the potential for supplemental feeding to improve a deers ability to address health and disease issues including both CWD and EHD.

Let’s also consider the social habits of whitetail deer as it relates to the spread of disease. Even the most novice of deer hunters realize that whitetails live in family groups, feed in close proximity to each other often browsing the very same plants, routinely groom each other, all lick and chew the same licking branches, urinate in and stick their noses in the same scrapes, etc etc etc. Is it really going to make any difference if some of them also visit the same supplemental feeding site?

Finally, have you ever looked in the sporting goods section of one of the numerous farm stores in Illinois? They all contain a large section dedicated to various deer attractants, minerals, feeds, etc. These are already being used in Illinois by the tons. It is not like legalizing supplemental feeding is going to introduce something new to the Illinois deer herd. It is already happening! What passage of the bill would do is make it legal so that all Illinois citizens could do what is already being done by many.

Myth 3 –

Supplemental feeding would endanger the well-being of the Illinois deer herd.

Many other states currently allow supplemental feeding and their deer herds are doing just fine. In fact, all of the states bordering Illinois allow supplemental feeding in some capacity. No evidence exists that the deer herds in these states are suffering because of it. For those crying that supplemental feeding puts the Illinois deer herd at risk, there is simply nothing more powerful than the map below. If supplemental feeding is such a bad thing, why are all these states allowing it, and how are their deer herds suffering because of it?

supplemental deer feed map

Let’s look at the Positives

When CWD was first discovered in Illinois, IDNR made the right decision to act and err on the side of caution. At that time little was known about CWD and how it might affect the states deer herd. That was almost 20 years ago and we have learned a lot about this disease in that time.

CWD has proven to not be the devastating plague that many biologists once feared it would become. In fact many of the nation’s top whitetail biologists have shifted their thinking regarding CWD over the past two decades. Those who once supported radical sharp-shooting campaigns and bans on supplemental feeding have shifted their opinions on both topics. The problem is a small minority of vocal deer hunters who largely bought into the same line of thinking when CWD first appeared east of the Mississippi River are not nearly as informed on modern science and thus are slow to change their opinions.

Modern nutrition has the ability to have a positive effect on the immune system and thus an animal’s ability to address disease and health challenges. This applies to ALL animals including humans. Supplemental feeding of deer is the only means to give our valued deer herd this advantage.

As I acknowledged earlier, IDNR probably made the right decision with its approach to dealing with CWD when it first hit the state in 2003. At that time their approach may have even been the model other states looked to but since that time a lot more has been learned and states like Wisconsin have moved on from that antiquated approach. SB-2493 actually gives IDNR an opportunity be the leader in CWD management once again by taking a new approach based on new science. One idea is to divide the state into zones where different approaches are implemented and studied.

Here is one example of how this issue could be addressed; the area of Illinois north of I-80 where CWD is most prevalent could continue to be managed as is with a ban on supplemental feeding. The area between I-80 and I-74 could be a “test area” where supplemental feeding is allowed but CWD monitoring is heightened to gauge its rate of spread versus the region north of I-80. This middle region of the state does have a couple of counties with confirmed CWD. This leaves the region south of I-74 where supplemental feeding could be allowed with an equal monitoring for CWD within every county in that region.

I think it is clear that everyone wants what is best for the Illinois deer herd. SB-2493 affords IDNR an opportunity to step to the forefront of CWD research. They should embrace the chance to work with legislators and constituents in a good faith effort from all parties to address the issue of CWD and supplemental feeding. The final details of SB-2493 have not yet been negotiated so the door is wide open for a well-crafted final version that takes the Illinois deer herd a giant step forward.

If there is any doubt that Illinois deer hunters support this bill, all one has to do is visit any farm store in the state and consider who is buying all the deer mineral and feed products now. I don’t think any of us are crazy enough to believe or suggest that non-residents are coming into the state to buy these products and haul them back home. Supplemental feeding is already happening on a fairly significant scale in Illinois. That is a fact that can’t be denied.

 

Comments

Myth 4 -
Even though Don Higgins owns and operates a whitetail land consulting business, he is not interested in the potential revenue stream that may result from legalizing supplemental feeding.  His intentions for wanting to provide supplements are purely for the health of the deer and antler size has no bearing (just ignore all the “grow big antler” talk on his website). 

Posted by buckbull on May 17

Myth #5

No taxpayer money nor money from the deer supplement industry will be used to pay for all of this…..

Tell us who will pay for all this Don

IF…..feeding deer is so good for the health & well being of the IL deerherd, tell us why IL should not allow supplemental feeding year round ???

If it is so good for 8 months, wouldn’t it be even better for all 12 months ???

Posted by Lynn on May 17

It’s an interesting read. Just wish it came from someone not vested into a supplemental feed business. It would probably get a little more positive feedback.

Posted by chrismaring on May 18

Yes interesting take on this. As far as Myth #2 - It seems to me anyways, that most of this supplemental feeding that is going on happens during deer season,( I bet store sales of this stuff is highest in Oct/Nov) so making it legal except for deer season, is not going to stop the illegal feeding that is going on now.

Posted by BIGPOND on May 18

Concerning myth #1: We all know how things like this crack the door open and makes it easier to open the door all the way. 

Take crossbows for example.
1. Crossbows are illegal for use during archery season.
2. Crossbows are allowed for the disabled.
3. Crossbows are allowed for everyone after second firearm season.
4. Crossbows are allowed for everyone during the entire firearm season.

What Higgins and his ilk (outfitters and big business) want is
1. Supplement (lets be honest, its bait) is not allowed.
2. Supplement allowed during the offseason.
3. Supplement allowed during the entire year with restrictions on proximity to hunting.
4. No restrictions on supplements.

Lets not even crack the door open.  Whats so wrong with deer being treated like wild animals instead of livestock manipulated by man?

Posted by buckbull on May 18

Adding bait to a given ecosystem artificially inflates carrying capacity.  Food plots do the same thing others say. But they really are not the same thing.  Bait only works until it is eaten and must be replaced on a consistent basis. Bait only provides benefit to a few select species.  Food plots self generate and provide habit that the entire ecosystem benefits from. What happens to the deer population when the bait stops? 

Forest management, tree thinning/planting, and habitat improvement is a much better approach if your true concern is the health of the deer population.  But we all know why this is being pushed, big antlers and the almighty dollar.

Treating deer like they are livestock simply to grow bigger antlers is disgusting.

Posted by buckbull on May 18

Hey Higgins, how much would you charge to bait my 52 acres in Calhoun county on a bi-weekly basis.  I would prefer a bait high in protein and one that is infused with anabolic steroids.  My deer look a little thin and are in dire need of human help!!!  Its all for the health of the herd!  Big bodied deer with huge racks being conditioned to hang out on my property is just an unfortunate circumstance.

Posted by buckbull on May 18

I like the part where Don uses the law breaking people who already feed & bait deer, as his supporting evidence…..really ???
I suppose he wants to also legalize meth & crack, because all these fine upstanding citizens are already doing it anyway….
..
“Treating deer like they are livestock simply to grow bigger antlers is disgusting”.. POSTED BY BUCKBULL 
WELL SAID !!!

Posted by Lynn on May 18

Let us not forget - yet another amended version has been filed and will be heard by the House Ag committee this coming week. Gotta love how this little jewel was inserted into the language - “During the study, supplemental deer feeding shall be permitted on private land in the geographic boundaries established for the study.”

How exactly is that going to work and how is it fair? Further pits private vs public land hunters, could possibly skew study results, and what if Outfitter A is located in the study area, but Outfitter B is not? What if Landowner A wishes to feed but cannot because of location? Why would IDNR even consider that language?

Can you imagine the enforcement nightmare this will create not to mention, if we are proposing this study to see what the effects of supplemental feeding would be it seems rather illogical to allow it during the study. Scientific permits for the study should be issued and ONLY the researchers should be allowed to set feed stations.

Unfortunately what Mr. Higgins doesn’t address in his guest post is why such urgency to this whole thing. Good Grief, in the grand scheme of things this hardly seems a priority in the state of IL.

Full language of the proposed amendment to be heard:
The amended version is as follows :
“Section 5. The University of Illinois Act is amended by adding Section 12.10 as follows:
110 ILCS 305/12.10 new)
Sec. 12.10. Supplemental deer food; study. The University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute shall, subject to appropriation and in consultation with the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, conduct a study for a period of at least 5 years on the health effects of supplemental deer feeding on the wild deer population outside of any Illinois deer hunting season and whether supplemental deer feeding affects the risk of disease transmission in the deer population. The study shall include a social study for a period of at least 5 years to measure the social impacts of supplemental deer feeding. For the purpose of this study, supplemental deer feeding shall include mixtures that are commonly used to feed wildlife with a mineral component or commercial feed. The study shall be conducted in areas within this State that are south of Illinois State Route 36. During the study, supplemental deer feeding shall be permitted on private land in the geographic boundaries established for the study. The University of Illinois Prairie Research Institute and the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine shall submit the study’s findings and any recommendations to the Department of Natural Resources, to be posted on its Internet website, and the General Assembly in a report no more than 180 days after the completion of the study. The report to the General Assembly shall be filed with the Clerk of the House of Representatives and the Secretary of the Senate in electronic form only, in the manner that the Clerk and Secretary shall direct.”.

Posted by G on May 20

“Why would IDNR even consider this that language” ?
I can tell you Gretchen….
The people that control our current IDNR, are life long political hacks. They care nothing about our wildlife !!!
This is ONLY a business decision/deal, being made by our corrupt state and the deer industry.
There in nothing fair or logical about this current bill.
This is simply a deal that has been brokered dividing this state into halfs.
north vs south…...
public vs private land…..
Pathetic isn’t it…..

Higgins & his fellow buddies in the deer industry will be allowed to make more money $$$$$$$$$$, that is their only goal here.
It is petty much like legalizing weed…..most logical people know it is a bad deal but the states AND some businesses, simply want to make A LOT of money off of it, no matter what comes from it !!
Gretch….I am pretty sure you will see our spineless IDNR take a “no position” on this new amendment, AGAIN….
They will NOT do what is right for our IL deer herd !!!
The back room deal has already been done. The hands have been shaked, the pats on the back have been made, the companion contributions made, ect…

Posted by Lynn on May 20

Gretchen,
I have to agree with a statement Lynn made in regards to the DNR taking a neutral position as to this legislation. Most legislators no nothing of wildlife matters within our state, and most look to the state agency that handles these matters for insight into such legislation. I find it very funny that the DNR liaison would say they are an opponent as to feeding, but neutral upon the study, and yet go neutral on the legislation as a whole. This sends a very mixed message to our legislators, thus making an educated decision by them, upon a matter they my have very little information to start with that much harder. That is an unacceptable approach by any wildlife agency within our country today, and the citizens, and wildlife of Illinois deserve much better than that out of our DNR.

I have also given some thought in regards to the study you posted in your other article, and I might have been very wrong as to regards to the studies worth. I started to wonder if feeding deer could help contain CWD ?? Deer are creatures of habit, just like many other species on earth. I got to see this first hand in Texas in my younger years, and even seen it here in Illinois as well. I have seen deer come to feeders in Texas that you could set your watch by the time they would show up at the feeder. I wonder if by feeding deer that are within infected areas, could that help contain them within those smaller areas, thus slowing down any spread of CWD. I would think if a deer had everything they needed in a certain home range, then the need, or desire to disperse into other areas would be less likely. Maybe that study had some worth after all.

I’m also surprised how little the average sportsmen/women even knows about feeding wildlife. I got a lesson in life about feeding wildlife, and livestock at a young age. I use to sell a 20% all natural protein feed that was used by the sheep and goat ranchers in the hill country of Texas. This feed has no urea, or steroids within it, just a vitamin pack, and the fiber base with either cotton seed, or soybean meal has the protein base. If sportsmen/women are concerned about the overall health of the herd, then the approach would be to feed these types of feed. The mineral heavy feeds, or supplements would be more inline with the so called antler growth crowd would want, and would actually be of less value to the herds health overall. Animals build up levels of minerals within their body’s over time, and in truth after they reach that certain level they will quit, or slow down their intake of mineral. A balanced all natural feed, with a good balance of vitamins, and trace minerals would be the ticket to a healthier deer herd if feeding was needed.

I know several view feeding, or baiting as a unethical practice, and I can see how some could come to that conclusion. I have seen both the good, and the bad in regards to feeding, or baiting, and I will say both have their merits, and downsides. I hate the idea of saying we could never feed deer, because there may come a time when it might be needed. We have also seen how slow our DNR is to react to issues, so as sportsmen/women are we to do nothing if the need arises ?? I hope not !! I don’t think our deer herd in Illinois is in need of feeding at this time, and if you want to ban baiting upon some ethical grounds, then ok. I just don’t like to close doors that some day could needed to be open, or could help the deer herd in a manner we may not completely understand yet.

RTT

Posted by Ringtailtrapper on May 20

Well my comment about infusing steroid into feed was really about opening this pandora’s box.  Steroid use in deer has shown little effect on antler size and some studies suggest it actually limits antler growth.  Have you seen some of the pictures of farm raised deer with 500 inches worth of antler?  They are freak shows and anyone with an ounce of common sense can see whatever these deer are being pumped up with cannot be healthy.

If someone is truly concerned about the health of their local deer herds the should focus on habitat improvement.  Tree thinning and planting, grasses, food plots etc.  Why can’t guys like Higgins just be happy with what nature provides?  Is growing big antlers so important that we as hunters (the real conservationist in this country) turn a blind to this complete nonsense?

Posted by buckbull on May 21

Well kids, our IDNR has now changed its stance on the amendment from neutral to proponent. WTH? But then again, how many of us are surprised by this turn of events?

Posted by G on May 22

Look at the witness list of those opposed to the “baiting” bill.  Many active and former wildlife biologists are in the opposition camp.  That should tell you something.
I suspect that Jack Calhoun, the father of Illinois deer herd, is now spinning in his grave.

Posted by riverrat47 on May 22

River Rat - if you look at the current witness list for the most recent amendment - it’s pretty short but also rather telling. How interesting that Brandon Phelps and the lobbying firm he works for signed on as proponents representing Ani-Logics…...Guess those flights down from Minnesota were getting a little tedious or costly for the folks at AniLogics. I think the majority of the opponents have just given up. They can see the writing on the wall, and that’s kind of sad.

Posted by G on May 22

I will help you all connect some more dots on how underhanded this deal really is.
PERFECT example of how corrupt IL politics really is….

Rep. Jerry Costello, II just filed the last amendments AND he happens to be the Chairperson of the Agriculture & Conservation Committee, where this bill is currently.

As Gretchen noted, Brandon Phelps was a IL Rep.  from Southern IL for several years, but he resigned last year for ‘health reasons’. BUT…he was well enough to start up his own lobbying firm, “Dogan, Butcher & Phelps LLC”

Our current IDNR director, Wayne Rosenthal, is also an ex State Rep

As little as 3 yrs ago, Rosenthal, Phelps & Costello all served on this ver Agriculture & Conservation Committee together.

Anyone wonder why IDNR now supports feeding deer, when a few weeks ago they opposed it ???

Anyone wound why Costello, a Democrat, filed an amendment to a bill sponsored by only Republicans ???

Anyone wonder why the only 3 supporting witness slips filed today on this bill were our very own IDNR, Phelps &  Butcher ( who is Phelp’s new Lobbying business partner, who also Represents Ani-Logics Outdoors, who sells deer supplements) ???

Like I said, backroom corrupt IL politics, at it’s finest….
Our wildlife does not stand a chance in this corrupt state.
I have been following this stuff for close to 2 decades now & it is getting worse every single year.
Beyond pathetic…...8^(

Posted by Lynn on May 22

just too bad this Department has to be run by political and financial agendas and those yes sayers, (Rosenthal included), who’s jobs depend on such a yes support.

Posted by BIGPOND on May 23

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