Wildlife baiting still illegal in Montana

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A sign posted at Murdoch’s in Kalispell reminds customers to observe baiting laws. 

It’s OK to buy a deer lick in Montana, but that’s about all you can do with it.

Grain and salt blocks specifically marketed as attractants for deer, elk or moose are relatively abundant in the Flathead Valley’s feed stores, but unless they’re being consumed by stock or domesticated animals, their intended use is prohibited under state law.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Regional Game Warden Capt. Lee Anderson said a local hunter who recently visited the agency’s Kalispell office wasn’t the first to express surprise over the state law.

“He’s like, ‘I just found out from a friend of mine that these things are actually illegal. It would have been nice to know that,’” Anderson said, relaying the hunter’s dismay. “It’s not illegal to possess it, just to use it for that purpose.”

Even if the intent is simply to boost a backyard’s wildlife-watching potential, state law forbids “purposely or knowingly attracting any cloven-hoofed ungulates, bears, or mountain lions with supplemental feed attractants.” Breaking the law is treated as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and/or six months in jail.

The legality of feeding or baiting wildlife varies state to state, but Anderson said the Montana law was enacted to address a range of possible side-effects — particularly public safety. A high concentration of deer or elk can attract mountain lions and other predators to residential areas, and also increases the likelihood of vehicle collisions with the ungulates on nearby highways and roads.

It can also be bad for the deer themselves. Disease transmission might spike, and the change in diet can throw off the natural bacteria cultures that seasonally shift in the animals’ digestive tracts.

“You can have a deer that will die — with a stomach full of nice, hot, green feed — of starvation,” Anderson said. “You could potentially love them to death.”

Hunting stores in the area have largely eliminated the salt blocks and deer bait from their shelves, but several feed stores still carry the technically legal products.

Along with its supply of livestock salt licks and feeds, the CHS County Store in Kalispell also sells salt blocks marketed as deer attractants.

At the Murdock’s Ranch and Home Supply in South Kalispell, shelves recently featured products such as “AntlerMax Premium Deer Block,” “Quick Draw Deer Attractant” and “Buck Licker.” But after a recent interview request, chief merchandising manager Chris Odegard said the company would be removing wildlife-specific baits from its eight Montana stores still carrying them.

“We were under the understanding that it’s related to hunting, feeding wildlife or baiting them,” Odegard said. “But upon digging into it, it appears it is against the law, period, so we are taking action right away to pull that from our shelves.”

Anderson said his wardens don’t go out of their way to track down residents or hunters who continue to bait animals, but wants them to be aware that they might be purchasing a citation when they buy a deer block.

He added that attractants can also miss their target. He said an incident in Trout Creek several years ago led to multiple black bears being euthanized after they became conditioned to wildlife bait.

Reporter Sam Wilson can be reached at 758-4407 or by email at swilson@dailyinterlake.com.

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