Alabama conservation officials clarify supplemental feeding 'area' definition in 2013
March 18, 2013
By Jeff Dute of al.com
Alabama's top conservation department officials said that the Conservation Advisory Board's recent effort to define the area around supplemental feed in which hunters may hunt deer and wild hogs does not amount to legalization of baiting.
Conservation Commissioner N. Gunter Guy Jr. and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Director Chuck Sykes both emphasized that the new definition was necessary after years of debate to finally clarify where people already on a year-round supplemental-feeding program may hunt while still feeding.
"This is to help landowners and land managers who are on a year-round supplemental-feeding program feel comfortable about hunting their land and it helps our enforcement officers feel more comfortable about determining what is supplemental feeding and what is baiting," Sykes said. "Supplemental feeding is very different than pouring a 50-pound bag of corn on the ground, then hunting over it. That is still illegal baiting."
The new definition does not apply to public lands where feeding and baiting remain illegal.
Previously, supplemental feeding of deer and wild hogs was allowed year-round as long as the animals were not hunted in the area of the feed. Determining what constituted baiting while hunting "in the area" of feed has always rested with conservation enforcement officers making cases in the field.
The existing regulation stated that hunters could supplemental feed during deer season if they were able to do so "without the feed being a lure or attraction to, on or over the area being hunted. Certainly you should not be within sight or shot of the feed or the area around the feed, or of any well-defined trail or pathway to the feed."
The term "area" in this context was defined as "that geographic space, including the air space above, within which the hunter is physically capable of harvesting the bird or animal. Area in this sense will vary depending on visibility, weaponry, natural or man-made barriers, vegetation, terrain and distance."
The new regulation, which was finalized Friday afternoon, as it applies to the hunting of deer or feral swine now reads, "there shall be a rebuttable presumption that any bait or feed located beyond 100 yards from the hunter and not within the line of sight of the hunter, is not a lure, attraction or enticement to, on or over the area where the hunter is attempting to kill or take deer or feral swine. For the purpose of this regulation, "not within the line of sight" means being hidden from view by natural vegetation or naturally occurring terrain features. This regulation shall not apply on public lands."
A rebuttable presumption is one that is taken to be true unless someone comes forward to contest it and prove otherwise, Guy said.
"In this case, the rebuttable presumption is that if you are in compliance with the regulation, you're presumed not to be baiting, but that can be overcome by the evidence," Guy said.
The burden of proof still rests with the state to establish that the hunter placed the feed outside of an on-going supplemental feeding program and with the intent to lure or attract game to within shooting range, Guy said.
Alabama's conservation law enforcement chief Kevin Dodd said the new regulation will still require his officers to use their discretion when making baiting cases.
"The fact that my officers will have to use their discretion is an accepted fact that's not going to change," Dodd said. "This is merely an attempt to clarify the area in which someone can supplemental feed and hunt without getting arrested."
Dodd also said that hunters encountering newly established supplemental feeding stations near property lines should not be concerned about it "poisoning" their hunting area because, according to the law, it is beyond their control.
"You can't control what your neighbor does," he said. "Even though the influence of the feed is still there, the fact that it's there is beyond your control."
Dodd added that such incidents do not happen that often, adding that roughly 95 percent of the baiting cases his officers make involve someone hunting right over or well within 100 yards of the bait.
While the new definition does not legalize baiting, Guy said hunters presumed to be in compliance with the regulation as part of an on-going supplemental feeding program can shoot deer as they walk trails leading to established feeding stations.
Sykes added the definition will allow people to continue to trap hogs on their land while still being able to hunt deer. Previously, the baited hog traps effectively prevented people from hunting deer in the area of the trap.
Sykes also stressed that supplemental feeding is not the end-all, be-all of game management to ensure hunting success.
"Supplemental feeding is just that. It's a supplement. It's just a part of an overall wildlife management plan," he said. "The emphasis should still be on habitat management, maintaining healthy, sustainable wildlife populations and proper food-plot management. There's no substitute for sound habitat management."