Last week, on Tuesday the House Natural Resource Committee held a meeting regarding House Bill 4908, which deals with a repeal for a sunset on the authority of the Natural Resource Commission to issue an order regarding deer and elk feeding. We expect them to approve it this week. This is the same content of SB 446, which was amended and approved in the Senate Tourism and Outdoor Recreation at the end of September.
Each time this law comes up for re-authorization, its up to us to educate our legislators as to why this authority exists and why the NRC is the best entity to make these decisions.
Last week Representative John Kivela, in sponsoring and supporting HB 4908, stated that this would remove the sunset, and with the help and consultation of the Commission on Agriculture and Rural Development, the NRC could regulate and/or restrict recreational feeding. He clarified for his fellow legislators, which MUCC and the DNR reiterated, that the NRC already has authority over baiting through Proposal G, but the feeding of deer and elk should also be under the NRC's purview and has historically been there. However, the NRC's authority to regulate deer and elk feeding sunsets at the end of this year, January 1, 2016.
If this authority is not reauthorized, the Department loses this ability to control and restrict recreational feeding, which is becoming an important issue with the Chronic Wasting Disease that is sneaking into the state, and this helps to prevent its spread.
A few legislators in both the House and Senate have been reluctant to agree with the removal of the sunset, reasoning that the legislators should still have oversight over the NRC. Their concern is for the economical impact that could occur if deer feeding is prohibited. They think the sunset should stay in place to reexamine this every 4 years. SB 446 was amended to further kick the can down the road and require another discussion on this same topic in 2019.
In response to that concern, MUCC reminded the House committee that we just went through a great effort of enacting the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that, like Proposal G in 1996, endorsed the NRC as the place to make these decisions because they are bound by law to use sound science in their decision making and because they meet regularly and can move quickly to respond to disease or other future wildlife crises requiring quick action.
MUCC's Deputy Director Amy Trotter testified in support for House Bill 4908/Senate Bill 446 to remove the sunset provision once and for all. Here's her written testimony.
In order to ensure that the Natural Resources Commission has the authority to regulate and issue feeding orders beyond January 1, 2016, MUCC respectfully asks for your support for House Bill 4908 as it was introduced. This bill will extend the NRC's current authority to regulate supplemental and recreational feeding of white-tailed deer and elk beyond the current sunset of January 1, 2016.
This bill does not address the issue of baiting, which is already within the NRC's authority under Proposal G of 1996 and, more recently, the Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.
MUCC fully supports HB 4908. Further, given the approaching deadline of January 1, 2016, MUCC urges expedient action on the bill and with immediate effect.
The intent of this legislation is to give the Natural Resources Commission full authority to regulate the feeding of deer and elk according to sound-scientific principles. MUCC fully supports eliminating the sunset so that our resources could be managed in an effective and transparent manner, with input from biologists.
Deer hunting alone is a half-billion dollar industry in this state and an outdoor tradition enjoyed by more than 700,000 residents. Because deer are an integral part of Michigan's ecosystem and economy, the conveyance of disease among deer, other wildlife, and humans should not be taken lightly. Deer and elk feeding congregates animals in a manner that increases the risk of spreading diseases. As such, it is critical for the NRC to have the requisite authority to issue appropriate feeding orders consistent with disease management objectives.
MUCC believes that effective, transparent, science-based natural resource management is paramount to the collective conservation and recreational opportunities our organization supports for the benefit of future generations. HB 4908 would continue to enable our resource managers to use transparent, science-based management principles in controlling, and hopefully eliminating harmful wildlife diseases that pose a critical threat not only to Michigan's outdoor heritage, but also to its tourism and agriculture industries.
Thank you for your time and consideration of MUCC's input.