Concerned citizen urges commissioners to reconsider Claiborne County feed ban

Published 2:11 pm Thursday, December 15, 2022

CLINTON — Four new cases of Chronic Wasting Disease were detected in Benton and Marshall County Thursday. Mississippi has had 28 deer test positive for CWD this year and 162 since first detection in 2018. The news comes the same day a citizen urged the MDWFP commission to reinstate a supplemental feed ban in Claiborne County.

The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks was scheduled to host Jennifer Ballard, state veterinarian, and Cory Gray, research director, with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to learn more about Chronic Wasting Disease Thursday morning. Mississippi’s first detection of the disease was in 2018 while Arkansas first detected it in 2016 in an elk. CWD is a 100 percent always fatal disease which is caused by an infectious prion, a misfolded protein, which is passed by deer to deer direct and indirect contact. 

MDWFP changed the education session schedule at the last minute last week and informed Ballard they had decided to change the schedule. This decision came after November’s meeting where the MDWFP Commissioners voted to redefine how a CWD management zone could be set in regards to the Mississippi River. A positive on the left side of the river would keep only portions of a county in the CWD zone if they were on the left side and not the right side regardless of proximity to the case. 

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Commissioner Leonard Bentz made a motion at the November meeting to rescind this feed ban in Claiborne County at the requests of a land owner and a business owner who argued the feed ban was unfair to them. It was passed by the commissioners with William Mounger II being the only dissenting vote as he urged them to come to the educational session on CWD.

Ed Penny, who is the public policy director at Ducks Unlimited Mississippi, urged the board to reconsider Thursday morning. He explained his wife has a lease in Claiborne County and he owns land there too. 

“I feel it was an irresponsible decision and must be addressed. I respect a lot of what you do but I have to call you out on this,” Penny said. “The CWD plan includes a management plan with tools such as feed bans to limit the spread. Your decision was made outside of existing law. You did not consult with other entities. I am disappointed this was made without public input. We did not know this was on the agenda. We have heard a lot about bad apples today and wildlife violators should not define wildlife policy in this state. It matters a lot to me.” 

The bad apples he referred to was one of the public commenters urging for a change had been issued a ticket for supplemental feeding in Claiborne County after the ban went into effect. MDWFP commission’s decision to rescind the feed ban went against the best plans and practices drawn up by several state wildlife agencies when dealing with the disease. MDWFP’s CWD management plan was endorsed in 2021 by the commission to manage the spread of CWD in Mississippi. 

Supplemental feeding with feeders and mineral lick sites create an unnatural concentration of deer and are not necessary for raising a quality deer herd. MSU’s Deer Lab and the MDWFP have partnered on research showing the impacts of improving quality forage, browse and planting food plots to help supplement a herd’s nutrition.  

Louisiana detected its first case of CWD in Tensas Parish near Yucatan Lake in January 2022. This CWD positive buck was found about a mile from Davis Island and six miles from the right bank of the Mississippi River. In response, MDWFP placed Claiborne County in a supplemental feed ban to help reduce the risk of Chronic Wasting Disease spreading. 

MSU’s deer lab had shown a buck known as #140 crossed the Mississippi River twice a year for three years in a row and some deer in the movement study covered a radius up to 18 miles. MDWFP commission’s decision to lift the supplemental feeding ban goes against the attempts of the state wildlife agency to control the disease. Penny urged commissioners to reconsider their stance and to reinstitute the previous feed ban as they have the authority to do so. 

“You should not have to be reminded how important deer hunting is to our state’s economy bringing in $1 billion annually. You put it at risk with your decision,” Penny said. “I ask you to work together with everyone to manage CWD. It is a public health risk and a wildlife risk.” 

Bentz responded to the request by arguing he was consistent from the beginning as he had been against CWD regulations in the past. One of his arguments was that a cattle farmer could have a feed site and mineral block for his cattle and a deer could be using it and a feed ban thus would not do anything. 

Penny responded by saying they wouldn’t have any jurisdiction over cattle to begin with but they have a responsibility to protect wildlife. It could be too late to implement a feed ban once it is detected in Claiborne County. Officials in Arkansas estimate the disease was undetected for about a decade before the first detection according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission website. 

In a letter he handed out to each commissioner, he also urged them to act in the best interests of Mississippians and protect native wildlife for the outdoor recreation economy and future generations. MDWFP sold $526,000 more in deer permits to non-resident deer hunters from what they sold in FY22. License sales are important as it funds 90 percent of the MDWFP’s budget. 

“You have the authority to change the management plan and to protect the economy and wildlife. You have to make responsible decisions,” Penny said.

No action was taken on the public comment.