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Outfitters buck against baiting restrictions

Shalom Baer Gee/MDN From the left, Hunter Thorp, Lynn Kongslie and Jim Eidmann meet at Kongslie’s ranch on Thursday to discuss their disagreements with baiting restrictions.

TOWNER — A group of hunting outfitters in hunting unit 34A take issue with baiting restrictions in the state. The 2021 hunting season was the first year the state implemented a baiting restriction in their unit to prevent the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).

Hunter Thorp, Lynn Kongslie, and Jim Eidmann are outfitters and guides in north central North Dakota, primarily operating during bow season. They met Thursday afternoon at Kongslie’s ranch to discuss making their argument to the state that baiting shouldn’t be restricted in the name of preventing CWD.

“I think it’s a naturally occurring thing that the government is using as a tool to increase regulation,” said Thorp of Dakota Whitetail Outfitting. “It was a financial hit for sure. Half of our hunters backed out, that’s half of the income.”

Thorp, who is 26, said this restriction could change his future.

“That’s how my dad was able to expand our farm throughout his career, and now I’m kind of at the beginning of my career. I was gonna hopefully use it as a tool, but it kind of sucks seeing this increased regulation put a damper on it,” he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that CWD can affect free-ranging deer, elk and/or moose has been reported in at least 25 states. CWD is prion disease, which isn’t a disease in the familiar sense. Casey Anderson, wildlife division chief at the North Dakota Game and Fish (NDG&F), explained that prion diseases are neither a bacterial infection or a virus.

“It’s not an actual living organism,” Anderson said. “A living organism can be destroyed or killed. It’s a protein that’s misfolded. When a deer picks it up, it causes the deer’s body to replicate those prions in their system. As it’s trying to replace these proteins in their cells, it’s doing it wrong, essentially.”

As these proteins are replicated incorrectly, areas of the animal’s brain become dysfunctional and eventually stop functioning all together. While the disease is ultimately fatal and incurable, some animals die from other causes once infected, such as running in front of cars, not escaping predators efficiently, or from simply stopping eating.

Anderson said the state bans baiting in units within 25 miles of where cases are found because baiting encourages the congregation of hunting game, and CWD is spread though saliva, urine, and feces.

“Obviously we were not going to be able to stop the natural congregations but forcing them to unnaturally congregate for longer periods of time, in smaller areas, it just increases the risk of faster spread,” Anderson said. “We have to look at what can we do to reduce the risk of spread to help us manage this disease so it doesn’t start managing the population for us. If you get to a high prevalence rate in the herd, you start to lose some of those opportunities, and we can’t allocate as many tags.”

CWD hasn’t reach a point of infection rate in North Dakota where tags have to be reduced, and cases are relatively low at the moment.

In 2020, researchers found a total of 18 cases in North Dakota. Two were in unit 3A1, in the northwestern corner of the state; one in 4B, on the western central border; 14 in 3F2, southeast of Bismarck bordering South Dakota; and one in 3A2, which includes Renville County and borders 3A4, where the three men operate their outfitting businesses. The NDG&F estimated In 2020 that there is a 2-5% infection rate in deer in North Dakota.

“Absolutely nobody even knows for sure because you didn’t even know how to test for CWD up to a few years ago, so how can you give a history of CWD?” said Kongslie of Wintering Creek Hunting Lodge. “The reason I have issue with Game and Fish banning baiting is that I’m out of business, and I don’t think anybody has a right to do that to me. I’m not bothering them.”

According to the CDC, CWD was first discovered in a research facility in the late 1960s and in wild deer in 1981.

The three men agree that there’s no moral or sportsmanship issue with baiting as a hunting tool, and it should be up to the individual how they choose to hunt.

“There’s some people that don’t and that’s fine,” Thorp said. “They can go and hunt their own way. I don’t think the Game and Fish has the right to tell me how to do it on my own property.”

Eidmann said he chose to bait when it was legal in his district for a simple reason: it’s easier.

“It makes hunting so much more difficult when you don’t have natural pinch points on your land where the lay of the land forces the animals to go to water or come around a river band,” Eidmann said. “I don’t have these tools to aid me in my hunting success, so to increase the success, we put down a five-gallon pail of corn.”

Anderson said that the state isn’t concerned with the morality of baiting or not baiting, but that restrictions are necessary to prevent the spread of CWD.

“Philosophically whether it’s right or wrong, that’s not up to me,” he said. “As a Game and Fish Department, our responsibility isn’t just for next year’s hunting season. It’s to look into the future and see if there’s some things we can do to maintain this outdoor opportunity that we have in North Dakota that we all cherish.”

Kongslie, Thorp, and Eidmann are hoping to meet with Reice Haase, the senior policy adviser with the governor’s office, in February to discuss their grievances with the state’s bait restrictions. The governor signs baiting restrictions into law each season under recommendations from the NDG&F.

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