Kansas wildlife agency could lose millions of dollars amid fight over deer baiting

photo by: Daniel Caudill/Kansas News Service

Republican Rep. Ken Corbet, left, owns a hunting lodge in Topeka that can use deer-baiting to increase the opportunity to hunt. Critics argue that a bill in the Legislature is an attempt to defund the wildlife department for considering a ban on deer-baiting to slow the spread of a fatal disease.

A Kansas House committee appears to be following through on a lawmaker’s threat to defund the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks because the agency is considering a ban on baiting deer with piles of food.

A bill that would strip millions of dollars from the agency’s budget comes even after critics raised ethics concerns over the committee leader’s conflict of interest because he owns a hunting lodge that can use deer baiting to improve hunting opportunities.

The Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget committee approved an amended bill requiring the wildlife department to provide refunds to nonresident hunters if they are not awarded a permit to hunt white-tailed deer.

Currently, deer hunters must pay nearly $200 for a Kansas hunting license and then apply for an additional permit to specifically hunt the deer. The state only awards a certain number of the deer permits and holds a lottery to choose the recipients.

The bill would require the state to refund the $200 to hunters if they are not chosen for the deer permit. The state would only be allowed to retain $30 for a processing fee.

Secretary Brad Loveless said refunding the fees to people who don’t get a permit may cost the department $7 million a year.

“This will have a very, very significant impact on all of our fish and wildlife programs,” he said in a hearing on the plan.

Critics argue the bill does not help the state’s hunting environment and is a punitive budget cut targeting the department. Manhattan-based hunter Jeffrey Hancock argued the bill is meant to hurt the department because of its consideration of deer-baiting restrictions.

“This bill has nothing to do with a state budget,” Hancock said in written testimony, “but is rather a direct attempt to follow through on a retaliatory strike against the KDWP.”

The committee’s consideration of the bill comes just months after Republican Rep. Lewis Bloom, who serves on the committee, threatened to defund the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks over its exploration of banning deer baiting.

Bloom’s threat came at a public hearing as the state’s wildlife commissioners considered restricting deer baiting and feeding to slow the spread of chronic wasting disease, a fatal cousin of mad cow disease that eats holes in the brains of deer.

“If you consider banning baiting,” Bloom said, “we’re going to take a million dollars off the top of your budget immediately. And then we will go through every line item bit by bit and take off everything we can possibly find.”

Bloom went as far as to claim Republican Rep. Ken Corbet, the chair of the committee that oversees the agency’s budget, would help him retaliate.

Corbet owns a lodge in Topeka that offers deer hunting for thousands of dollars per person, raising concerns about a conflict of interest. Hunting lodges regularly use baiting and feeding to help their customers get closer to the deer, or to bolster deer populations or try to grow larger antlers.

In an email in September, Corbet dismissed concerns that he has a conflict of interest in the issue because he owns a hunting lodge.

“There’s probably not a person in their state,” Corbet said, “that doesn’t have a conflict on something.”

Kansas is in a shrinking minority of states that still allow baiting. Chronic wasting disease is a key factor spurring more states to prohibit it, though state wildlife officials are also concerned about other problems, such as damage to crops and natural areas caused by high deer and raccoon concentrations around feeders.

The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has not yet taken any action to restrict deer baiting. When the agency began investigating in June 2023, it said the project would be a “multi-year exploration of issues surrounding baiting wildlife.”

Nadia Marji, a spokesperson for the department, said the department is still wading through feedback. She said the primary focus is to consider public thoughts and data so that any decision would be supported by a majority of the department’s constituents.

“Department staff want to make sure that we gather and review all comments, suggestions, and concerns with a fine-tooth comb,” Marji said in an email, “and fully understand what this particular data set is telling us before identifying any potential ‘next steps’ in the exploratory process.”

— Dylan Lysen reports for Kansas News Service.


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