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Whitmer vetoes bill that would lift certain restrictions on backyard bird feeders

American Robin sitting on a tree branch
Michiganders are allowed to put out bird feed, but it is illegal to do it in a way that could attract deer or elk.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has vetoed a bill that would have lifted some restrictions on backyard wildlife feeding.

The bill upholds existing restrictions adopted by the Michigan Natural Resources Commission. The vetoed bill—HB 4008—would have allowed up to two gallons of bird or animal feed to be placed within 300 feet of a residence. The governor said in her veto letter the measure would pose a health threat to wildlife, hunting and livestock:

“The Natural Resources Commission’s ban on deer and elk feeding is based on strong scientific evidence, which demonstrates that feeding disrupts normal wildlife movement patterns, causing animals to congregate and thereby accelerating the spread of deadly diseases like bovine tuberculosis. HB 4008 would cast aside sound disease management principles to loosen restrictions on deer and elk feeding, threatening our agricultural and hunting industries.”

The bill was sponsored by Republican Representative Ken Borton of Gaylord, who said he’s been on the receiving end of state Department of Natural Resource’s "overzealous," in his opinion, enforcement of the regulation.

“I just wanted to be left alone,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that people in the state of Michigan could feed their birds in solitude, enjoy wildlife, enjoy nature and not worry about being harassed from the DNR.”

Borton has also been fighting the DNR in court on the rule.

DNR Wildlife Division Chief Jared Duquette says people are allowed to put out bird feed. But it is illegal to do it in a way that could attract deer or elk. He says that’s because feeders can be a vector for disease.

“You can attract unnaturally high congregations of animals over and above what they would normally do just in nature if you weren’t having this kind of point source food for them,” he said.

Duquette also says changing the rules on backyard wildlife feed would be inconsistent with other regulations that ban the use of bait by deer and elk hunters across most of Michigan.

Borton says his bill was not about interfering with the hunting regulations.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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