RD461 - A Study Report on the Effects of Removing the Prohibition Against Hunting Over Bait in Virginia, Senate Joint Resolution 79, 2014 Regular Session of the Virginia General Assembly
Senate Joint Resolution 79 (SJR 79), referred for study by the Senate Rules Committee following the 2014 General Assembly, directed the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to "study the effects of a removal of the prohibition against hunting over bait." SJR 79 also requested that the Department "study those states that allow baiting, focusing on an investigation of the policies of North Carolina and the experience of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission." Lastly, the resolution asserts that hunting over bait creates positive economic value in the Commonwealth; enhances hunting opportunities for Virginia hunters; is an integral part of a sound wildlife management strategy; and is a traditional hunting practice and has been permitted in Virginia in the past. These statements are individually addressed in detail within this report.
As the agency with the responsibility for managing Virginia's wildlife resources, the Department does have biological and sociological concerns with hunting over bait. These include negative impacts on target and non-target wildlife populations and habitat, , changes in animal behavior, sportsmanship and fair chase concerns, and disease transmission risks.
Artificial food (feed and/or bait) can substantially elevate animal condition, leading to increased survival and/or reproduction. This can dramatically increase the size and density of targeted species populations (e.g., bears, deer, etc.) above the natural carrying capacity of the habitat. Artificial food can also attract and increase populations of non-target species (e.g., raccoons, skunks, opossums, foxes, etc.) and/or nuisance species (e.g., feral hogs, coyotes, etc.).
Overabundant wildlife populations, especially deer, can cause significant habitat damage by over-browsing native vegetation. This habitat damage can negatively affect other wildlife species including songbirds and small mammals, have negative effects on forest structure and diversity, and facilitate the success of invasive plants in forests.
Animal Behavior Impacts
Baiting alters natural animal behavior making them less "wild." Bait also alters natural animal movement patterns and distribution on the landscape; increases intra- and interspecific competition; and increases conflicts between wildlife and people, habituation, and human safety issues. Baiting significantly increases direct and indirect contact, competition, and aggression between target and non-target species at bait sites.
Sportsmanship/Fair Chase Concerns
A majority of hunters and non-hunters nationwide oppose hunting over bait because they think it is unfair and violates the principle of "fair chase" hunting. Baiting pits hunters against one another from a philosophical standpoint and can create conflicts between hunters and between landowners. At least 36 state laws in Virginia pertaining to hunting and trapping incorporate important sportsmanship/ethical standards.
Baiting consistently attracts and repeatedly congregates wildlife at the same location and thus has been implicated as a significant factor affecting inter- and intraspecific disease transmission. Baiting increases the risk of disease introduction, amplification, and spillover into other wildlife species, domestic livestock, and humans. Brucellosis, bovine tuberculosis, and chronic wasting disease are diseases that have been diagnosed in North American wildlife populations and have cost affected states hundreds of millions of dollars in direct costs over the past decade. Disease ramifications of baiting are long-lasting and potentially devastating, thus preventing the creation of environments that foster and amplify disease transmission is imperative.
Conclusion and Recommendation
Hunting over bait is controversial and divisive among hunters, it is opposed by the general public, and it has significant negative biological and social implications for Virginia's wildlife resources, wildlife habitats, hunting heritage, and citizens. It is therefore the recommendation of the department that the 78 year old ban on hunting over bait in the Commonwealth be maintained.