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 with Rob Miskosky

The Great De-Bait, Part II

The review jumped out at me almost immediately. The title alone peaked my interest but the summary stole my attention and had me fully immersed in the 68 page document within minutes.

Prepared by the Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre,
Department of Veterinary Pathology at the University of Saskatchewan, the document was written because “The contracting agencies, Parks Canada and Saskatchewan Environment, recognize that an objective review of existing literature may help to answer questions and concerns within and outside the agencies, and help to guide subsequent decision-making concerning management and research pertaining to feeding and baiting.”

Titled “A Comprehensive Review of the Ecological and Human Social Effects of Artificial Feeding and Baiting of Wildlife” by Linda Dunkley and Mark Cattet, the review quickly jumped on the spread of disease as being the most immediate concern for the contracting agencies, Parks Canada and Saskatchewan Environment. While the document provided for little good regarding the baiting of deer, it must have fallen on deaf ears. Prepared in 2003, to this day the practice of baiting deer in Saskatchewan is alive and well, especially in outfiitted hunting circles.

Deer on a bait pile in northwestern Saskatchewan.
During the week I spent this past hunting season in Saskatchewan, at just about every turn was a bait site. The pick-up truck hauling a trailer full of alfalfa bales at dark into the forested Meadow Lake Provincial Park proved that the practice of baiting was full-steam ahead.

Being naive as to the enormity of the baiting taking place, I was astonished to learn that the outfitter in the area we were hunting had amassed a collection of 40 different bait sites over several miles of Crown land, virtually locking everybody, including residents, out of the area.

The outfitter was also very protective of the area he had sewn up, and in fact had local fish and wildlife officers visit two of our locations requesting us to move. His reasoning: We were too close to his bait sites. Given the circumstances, anybody within 10 miles in any given direction would have been too close to his bait sites—they were everywhere. Did we have to move? Yes we did. The officers’ reasoning: He had to live with the outfitter, not us. Apparently Saskatchewan outfitters have a lot of pull with Saskatchewan Environment.

It was recently shown that chronic wasting disease (CWD) can be spread from one animal to another through saliva. Urine and feces are also suspected but have yet to be shown as a means of transmission. But what we know more than anything else is that the disease spreads rapidly—and not just CWD, but also bovine tuberculosis and others—when animals become congregated, such as they are on game farms and at feeding stations and bait sites.

Bait can be purchased from any feed store at low cost.
Considering Alberta’s CWD woes in wild deer just so happen to exist within that part of the province nearest Saskatchewan, Alberta’s attempts to eradicate the disease with its CWD Cull Program may be at best a waste of taxpayer dollars and enforcement time as long as baiting continues in Saskatchewan. Deer do not recognize provincial boundaries and as such, a deer residing on a bait site in Saskatchewan is just as likely to cross into Alberta at any given time, and more than likely already has.

Ken McDaid of the Fair Chase League, a farmer and resident of Saskatchewan, has been trying to stop baiting in that province for many years. A hunter himself, McDaid is horrified by the baiting practice and tells anybody who will listen about his fears. But so far, nobody is listening.

“I’ve been banging my head against the wall for a long time now,” said McDaid, clearly frustrated at the lack of progress his group has made with Saskatchewan Environment.

“Why in the world they don’t stop this... I don’t know. They keep telling us there is no evidence to show baiting can cause the spread of disease. But everybody knows it, they know it. They aren’t looking down the road.”

In 1994, Ken McDaid, two former ministers of Saskatchewan Environment and several others formed the Fair Chase League. Their sole purpose is to put an end to the practice of baiting deer. While some of the original members of the Fair Chase League are no longer with us, others have taken their place and their commitment is steadfast. But their battle keeps running into a brick wall, namely Saskatchewan Environment.

A Wisconsin conservation officer behind a huge, illegal pile of corn used for baiting deer. - photo Wisconsin Deer Hunters Association.
“Manitoba quit baiting and game farming a few years ago. But what is the point of them (Manitoba) doing all that if we (Saskatchewan) keep doing it. And you guys in Alberta don’t allow baiting, but here we are baiting away. It’s frustrating. Whatever happened to the precautionary principal?”

McDaid also believes that Saskatchewan’s outfitting industry has a much larger say in the matter than they should. And can’t believe they can’t agree that baiting is bad for the health of the deer herd. A herd that they themselves should be most concerned about.

“The outfitters don’t want to lose the bait. It’s all economics. They’re worried it will cost them a lot of money. They can run one or two guides to pick up their clients, drop them in a treestand in front of a pile of bait and leave. If they had to go one-on-one, they’d have to hire more guides. They don’t want to do it. They can’t see past the end of their noses.”

In Alberta baiting deer for the purpose of hunting has long been illegal. And according to Provincial Wildlife Disease Specialist, Margo Pybus, justifiably so.

“We know that if you get a congregation of deer the chance of disease spreading horizontally goes up. There’s no denying it.”

It is also known that former SRD minister, David Coutts, had arranged a meeting with Saskatchewan Environment minister, John Nilson, to discuss several issues with baiting and CWD being one of them. Poor weather, however, curtailed a flight and the meeting was postponed. At this stage it is hoped that our new minister, Ted Morton, will pick up the ball and run with it, perhaps bringing to light an issue that doesn’t sit well with Saskatchewan’s neighbours.

But until, or if that happens, the questions remain, why does Saskatchewan continue to allow baiting when the provinces on both sides of her do not? And are we in Alberta and Manitoba paying to try and eliminate a problem that Saskatchewan refuses to acknowledge may in fact be helped along by some of the practices legally taking place in that province?

And why does Saskatchewan continue to allow baiting when the Expert Scientific Panel on Chronic Wasting Disease recommends a ban on baiting and artificial feeding?

In order to try and get an answer to that question, I contacted Saskatchewan Environment. Unfortunately, nobody could give me an answer. The last response I got, from Information Officer, Zamira Vicenzino Heth, was that she would find somebody who could answer my question and get back to me right away. I’m still waiting.

Bait site set up close to the boundary of Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba when baiting in that province was legal, except in the Park. The same could be applied in Saskatchewan with the Park Boundary becoming the Alberta border.
- photo Roger Turenne, CPAWS
Mark Cattet, the man who in part was commissioned by Parks Canada and Saskatchewan Environment back in 2003 to provide the review of feeding and baiting practices, and who is also a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, agrees with Margo.

“In general, if you’ve got diseases known to possibly be transmitted by saliva or what have you, and you’ve got a high concentration of animals, it’s a no-brainer. You can explain it to primary children and they will understand it. If you do this, you get this.

“I certainly didn’t expect the review to be received as a revelation. The information is out there. All I did was put it into context so it was easy to understand and readily available.”

But Cattet’s review, which you can read at, goes beyond explaining the consequences related to disease. He also suggests that feeding and baiting causes “Disruption of animal movement patterns and spatial distribution, alteration of community structure with reduced diversity and abundance, the introduction and invasion of exotic plant species, and general degradation of habitat are all major negative effects that have been documented at different locations throughout North America.”

The underlying culprit in Saskatchewan’s refusal to ban baiting practices most certainly lies at the political level. The science is there and has been for years. But politicians generally don’t look at what is right, but rather at what it will cost them in votes. Baiting has become a huge money-maker for not only Saskatchewan’s outfitted hunting industry, but also for agriculture and others who make money from hunting activities. A lot of alfalfa and other cereal grains are purchased and used in baiting. This has also proven to be the case in several states where the mention of a bait ban has brought uproar. Banning a hunter’s ability to bait, also removes somebody else’s ability to provide the goods needed for baiting.

But CWD is a dangerous game. And one that rolling the dice on will invariably lead to a losing hand. ■

For previous Outdoor Pursuits click here.

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