Gov. Whitmer vetoes bill that would overturn ban on baiting deer

As promised, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed legislation Thursday that would have ended Michigan's ban on using bait to hunt deer or elk, saying the restriction is needed to curb the spread of animal diseases such as chronic wasting disease.

In a letter to lawmakers, the Democratic governor said more than 68% of voters approved a 1996 referendum on a law that gives the state Natural Resources Commission authority to regulate hunting.

Baiting deer and elk is prohibited throughout the entire Lower Peninsula and parts of the Upper Peninsula under a ban that was initially approved by the commission in 2018.

"The commission's ban on baiting and feeding is based on strong scientific evidence, which demonstrates that baiting and feeding disrupt normal wildlife movement patters, causing deer and elk to congregate and thereby increase the likelihood of disease transmission," wrote Whitmer, who said the measure would have put animals in the wild and in the beef and dairy industries at risk.

The Republican-controlled Legislature had passed the bill almost entirely along party lines.

The sponsor, GOP Rep. Michele Hoitenga of Manton, accused Whitmer of being "completely out of touch with people in northern Michigan" and said the ban is not preventing the spread of disease.

"In fact, it's having the opposite effect by driving hunters away from the sport," she said in a statement. "Thinning out the deer herd is the best way to prevent disease from spreading. We need hunters to participate to prevent overpopulation."

Hoitenga called for the Whitmer administration to work with her on a compromise.

Under the legislation, baiting would have been allowed for two years unless the Legislature revisited the issue. The ban also could have stayed intact in areas where the state and federal government have agreed to limit or prohibit baiting and feeding -- including parts of four counties that are dealing with bovine tuberculosis in the northeastern Lower Peninsula.