Heartland Outdoors: Through the Lens

Deer Feeding Bill Passes Senate with Multiple Changes from Original

Wednesday, May 02

The amended version of SB 2493 passed the Senate on Tuesday with only one NO vote. This version of SB2493 is substantially different from the introduced version. The amendment removed all original language, removed references to the Fish and Wildlife Code and instead moved the amendment to the University of Illinois Act.
The now engrossed bill states:

“AN ACT concerning wildlife. 
Be it enacted by the People of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly: Section 5 The University of Illinois Act is amended by adding Section 13 as follows:
(110 ILCS 305/13 new)
Sec. 13. Supplemental deer food; study. The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, subject to appropriation and in consultation with the Department of Natural Resources, shall conduct a study for a period of at least 2 years of the health effects of supplemental deer feeding on the wild deer population and whether supplemental feeding affects the spread of any communicable diseases within the deer population. The study shall also designate geographic locations where the practice of supplemental deer feeding may be beneficial. The University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine shall submit its findings and recommendations to the General Assembly in a report no more than 60 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 the Secretary shall direct.”

When asked who or what organizations brought this initiative to Rose for introduction, he only answered that it was his constituents and his district serves a large number of avid deer hunters who have been concerned with the health of the herd and feel strongly that allowing supplemental feeding will help to enhance the health of the IL herd.

While opponents were not successful in getting the supplemental feeding bill stopped completely, bill sponsor Chapin Rose felt this was a good compromise to a long-standing debate about the need for and safety of supplemental feeding in CWD positive state. “I took the amendment to DNR before filing, and they weighed in as neutral.” said Rose. It is unclear exactly how much input DNR had in the current language or crafting of the amendment. During the NRAB meeting on April 30 IDNR director Rosenthal explained that IDNR remains opposed to supplemental feeding but is indeed neutral on the proposed study.

When asked about what seemed like such urgency in crafting the amendment and getting it passed this session Rose explained that was due to legislative session deadlines, and the hopes of getting it through the senate, on to the house and having the issue settled by the end of this session. “I’ve been trying for two years to get this done, but IDNR has remained steadfast in their opposition.” Said Rose.

Rose explained this was a way to insure the issue was studied properly, through a university research program system, with appropriate checks and balances, ethics, and by one of the top veterinary schools in the nation.  The mechanics of the study, the researchers who will be doing it – all will be determined by the team performing the research.  Rose expressed that science should be handled by the science and research community rather than the legislators. “We have one of the best research Universities at U of I – but I would be open to hearing from other universities or agencies who would be interested.”

It seems unusual that a research study/project be mandated by legislative process, a concern that was echoed by those in the academic and research world. While not un heard of, it’s rather unusual. Usually a research project is designed, and proposal made, requests for funding are made and awarded based on the merits of the individual study. In this case, it seems a bit of a reverse of the process.

It does appear that perhaps the amendment gets the cart before the horse, and that perhaps a better study would be to determine the nutritional status of the herd first, to identify if a problem exists before identifying the solution. Do IL wild white tails truly need supplemental feeding due to any nutritional deficiencies? Rose indicated that by allowing the supplemental feeding, deer would be able to better withstand disease should they become exposed, so essentially that’s one of the things the study would help to determine.

When asked about concerns given the fact that there are volumes of research that indicate supplemental feeding does spread disease, and this could have a negative impact regarding the spread of CWD throughout the state. Rose said “Deer are social animals. They are still going to congregate and feed together. Supplemental feeding would give them health benefits that could help them to be healthier and better withstand disease exposure.  Illinois CWD cases have grown exponentially without supplemental feeding.”  (Per IDNR Prevalence rates have remained low and changed little over time since discovery of CWD in 2002, but there is a slowly increasing trend in recent years, most notably for adult males. The overall prevalence rate remains steady at less than 3%) When reviewing the prevalence rate data, it could hardly be called exponential growth.

The Illinois CWD program is considered a successful program, and often cited a model approach to the control and spread of CWD.

When asked about specific language in the bill, such as why only U of I and why legislatively mandate a wildlife study, what would be the mechanics of the study, etc. – Rose said “This isn’t the final product, it’s a work in progress and we will be working on some of those specifics going forward. The language is likely to change somewhat, and I am open to discussing those changes.”

Rose remained adamant that the study would not be funded by taxpayer dollars, nor by any of the supplemental feed companies. Although the actual funding sources have yet to be determined, the study is contingent upon appropriation. 

While many opponents see this a defeat, it does provide for the study of supplemental feeding and its effects on the Illinois herd. The data gleaned from this study could put this issue to rest once and for all in Illinois. The downside is at this point no one really knows what the actual project will entail, how it will be funded, and it seems risky to allow supplemental feeding, even in a controlled research setting in a state with CWD.

There are volumes of research regarding the supplemental feeding of deer, the contribution of supplemental feeding to the spread of disease, and other negative impacts. Rose maintains that the use of supplemental feeding will provide an over all net positive for the herd and that the good from supplemental feeding will over ride what little negative impact there may be.

The question was posed to Rose that many of the opponents feel that this has more to do with supplemental feed companies, and hunters that wanted to use the products to produce larger racks, bigger bucks regardless of any risk. Some even seeing this a stepping stone to at some point in the future allowing hunting over bait. Rose was very adamant that this was solely to address the overall health of the Illinois herd, and insuring that citizens in Illinois had every advantage available to maintain the health of the herd.

As Rose frequently stated – this is a work in progress, not the finished product. Both proponents and opponents still have 4 weeks of the house session to make changes, find areas of compromise, hammer out specific details, such as funding, the mechanics of the study, and who and how it would be conducted.

Until the bill is finalized and taken to the floor for a House vote, concerned deer hunters, wildlife managers, all parties will have to be content with a wait and see approach and follow the bill as it progresses.

The bill can be followed here.



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