Wildlife budget in jeopardy

A bill in the Kansas Legislature that would cut millions from the state’s wildlife department comes after a lawmaker threatened to defund the state agency for considering deer-baiting restrictions.

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February 19, 2024 - 3:21 PM

Kansas wildlife commissioners are considering a ban on 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. Photo by David Condos/Kansas News Service

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.

Republican Rep. Ken Corbet, left, owns a hunting lodge in Topeka that can use deer-baiting to increase the opportunity to hunt. Photo by Daniel Caudill/Kansas News Service

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

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