MONTGOMERY — The Alabama House of Representatives on Thursday voted to allow people to use bait when hunting deer and feral hogs, for a fee.
House Bill 197 allows for baiting of white tail deer and feral pigs on private and leased lands for a $14 annual “bait privilege license fee” and a $1 issuance fee. Out-of-state hunters would pay $50.
“We have concerns about Chronic Wasting Disease and we also have concerns about the current law and there is an opportunity with this bill to be used as a tool for (the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources),” bill sponsor Rep. Danny Crawford, R-Athens, said.
The bill was approved 85-10 and now goes to the Senate, where a similar version of the bill passed last week. The two chambers could form a conference committee to work out differences between the two versions before sending it to the governor’s desk.
Most of the representatives from the Birmingham area voted in favor of the bill, including Louise Alexander, D-Bessemer, Jim Carns, R-Birmingham, Merika Coleman, D-Birmingham, Dickie Drake, R-Leeds, Juandalynn Givan, R-Birmingham, Neil Rafferty, D-Birmingham, John Rogers, D-Birmingham, and April Weaver, R-Alabaster.
Reps. Mary Moore, D-Birmingham, and Arnold Mooney, R-Birmingham, abstained. Rep. David Wheeler, R-Vestavia Hills, voted no.
“I didn’t have any animosity towards the bill, it just didn’t sit right with me,” Wheeler said later. “I knew it was going to pass so it just didn’t sit right particularly with me.”
The bill led to some discussion on the House floor about sportsmanship.
“If I was a hunter, I would want to really hunt them. Not bait them,” said Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, who eventually supported the bill.
“It’s not any fun if you just bait them. If you’re a hunter and want the thrill of hunting and not just shooting them. That’s like shooting Bambi. They’re just trying to get a meal, and then you’ll just go and shoot poor Bambi.”
Moore said she abstained because she needed more information.
“I voted that way because I was confused, because when they approached us about the bill, their main thing was about the disease part, the (chronic wasting disease),” she said. “But what confused me was that they said that if you do the feeding, that could control the disease from spreading …
“I don’t see any control of the disease in this bill, there has got to be something more for how they will treat the disease, in my opinion.”
Rep. Phillip Pettus, R-Greenhill, said he discussed the bill with conservation officials and heard nothing but positive feedback from constituents.
“I live up in the corner of the state and Mississippi and Tennessee have already had (chronic wasting disease) and we don’t want it coming into Alabama,” Pettus said.
Rep. Kyle South, R-Fayette, said he likes the chronic wasting disease protections in the bill.
“We’ve seen it in northeast Mississippi, so it’s not that far from home,” South said, adding he is “not ecstatic” about the extra fee.
“We already pay to hunt,” he said. “But most of the feedback from back home is that people are willing to pay it.”
Rep. A.J. McCampbell, D-Livingston, raised several questions but eventually voted for the bill.
“This isn’t hunting, it’s not teaching a skill,” McCampbell said. “This is teaching people to be ambushers.”
McCampbell said he was for the baiting of feral hogs.
“They do a whole lot of damage to agriculture industry in Alabama,” he said. “We do need a process to eradicate that problem.”
Feral hogs can be hunted year-round without limit.
Their high reproductive rates, lack of natural predators, voracious omnivorous feeding habits, destructive rooting behavior and habitat destruction are just a few reasons Alabama sportsmen and land managers are encouraged to kill them, according to conservation officials.
A fiscal note on this year’s bill said it could reduce money collected by the conservation department by about $146,000 in fines each year. But that number could be offset by hunters paying the baiting fees.
Current regulations say hunters can use “supplemental feed” when hunting deer as long as it is placed at least 100 yards from where they are aiming and not in the direct line of sight. That rule has been confusing, proponents for the legislation said.
Like hunting seasons, deer-baiting debates have become annual events in the State House, but legislation has eventually stalled.
New in the bill this year is the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ ability to end baiting in case diseases are found in the state’s deer population. The bill says the state conservation commissioner may, without refund, suspend the use of a baiting privilege license on a county, regional, or statewide basis to prevent the spread of diseases.
It also gives conservation the ability to adopt rules about feeding of wild animals.
Conservation Commissioner Chris Blankenship said the agency isn’t opposed to the bill.
“We’re working on many fronts to keep Chronic Wasting Disease out of our state,” Blakenship said. The importation of live deer was banned several years ago and, since last year, whole deer harvested in other states can’t be transported to Alabama.
“(Hunters) can bring back de-boned meat,” Blankenship said.
Regular testing of harvested deer is also happening to monitor for the disease.
Chronic wasting disease is fatal and affects the central nervous system of deer, causing them to become emaciated and display abnormal behavior. It is not known to be transmissible to humans or domestic livestock, according to conservation officials. It’s been found in 25 states.
The Alabama Wildlife Federation is opposed to baiting.
“It increases the chance for disease transmission and spread among deer and other wildlife,” the group’s website says. “Wildlife research has shown that baiting deer causes them to unnaturally concentrate around baited areas.”
Crawford pointed out that feeding is already happening under current regulations and the conservation department has less control over it.
Alabama Daily News reporters Mary Sell and Todd Stacy contributed to this story.
This coverage of the 2019 session of the Alabama Legislature is provided by the Capitol News Service of Alabama Daily News, based in Montgomery. BirminghamWatch is publishing reporters’ news and analysis but not commentary, from this new partner.