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Court: Baiting deer legal if not for hunting

File photo (Wisconsin DNR)

MADISON (AP) -- Baiting and feeding deer is permissible in areas affected by chronic wasting disease as long as the food isn't intended to draw in deer for hunting, a state appellate judge ruled Tuesday.

State Department of Natural Resources rules prohibit baiting and feeding for the purpose of hunting or training dogs in counties where CWD is present and their neighboring counties. The rule is designed to slow the disease's spread by keeping deer from congregating over bait and feed piles.

The case in question began in November 2015 when DNR wardens cited Minong resident John Walker after discovering corn and pumpkins near his deer stands on his Washburn County property the day before the gun deer season began. Washburn County is one of 43 counties affected by CWD.

Washburn County Circuit Judge Eugene Harrington tossed Walker's ticket, saying he interpreted DNR's rules to mean baiting and feeding is prohibited only if the food is used for hunting purposes. County prosecutors failed to prove Walker intended to hunt over the bait, Harrington said.

According to court documents, Walker told the wardens he was using the food to feed his dogs.

Prosecutors appealed to the 3rd District Court of Appeals, arguing the act of placing the food violated the DNR's rules. Judge Thomas Hruz sided with Harrington, saying the prohibition is triggered only if the person who placed the food intends to use it to hunt.

Typically a three-judge panel decides appellate cases, but Hruz decided the case alone under a state law that allows a single appellate judge to handle disputes involving civil forfeitures.

Angeline Winton, the Washburn County assistant district attorney who appealed the ruling, didn't immediately return a message seeking comment. DNR spokesman James Dick noted the decision applies only to Walker's case and doesn't set statewide precedent. He said the agency will continue to exercise its citation authority with discretion.

The ban on baiting and feeding has been a contentious issue, particularly in northern Wisconsin where people say they want to be able to watch deer in their backyards. Republican state Rep. Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake has introduced a bill that would lift the prohibition after three years in CWD-infected counties and after two years in neighboring counties.

In an email statement, Jarchow said the DNR is out of control. He called on agency leaders to immediately stop any enforcement actions inconsistent with Tuesday's ruling and conduct a review to make sure they're not violating citizens' rights based on inaccurate rule interpretations.

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