Heartland Outdoors: Guest Blog

In support of supplemental feeding

Thursday, May 17

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.

 

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