An identical bill in the House, introduced by Rep. Gene Pinson (R-Greenwood), is also under consideration in that chamber and could be proposed for a vote late in the current session.
The bills were introduced at the urging of Cary Chamblee, a lobbyist for the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, after a seemingly contradictory ruling by the S.C. Attorney General's Office that under current state law, it is illegal to bait for deer - but not illegal to hunt deer over bait in Game Zones 1 and 2. Chamblee said the present law on deer baiting is unenforceable under the ruling by Attorney General Alan Wilson.
At issue is the wording of the law adopted by the legislature when it took regulatory authority for hunting on private lands in the Upstate away from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources in 2008 and wrote new laws to govern hunting in the Upstate.
The law as written in 2008 simply stated: "In Game Zones 1 and 2 it is unlawful to pursue deer with dogs, and it is unlawful to bait for deer."
According to the Attorney General, since the law does not address hunting for deer over bait, in the Upstate you can't put out bait for deer, but if bait is present, it is not illegal to hunt deer over it.
"What would happen is that wildlife law enforcement would not be able to make cases for hunting over bait in the Upstate," said Chamblee.
"While we do not disagree with our Attorney General that the code section dealing with taking deer over bait is flawed, we believe that the place for making state policy on matters of this importance should rest with the legislature," Chamblee told the senate subcommittee, "I don't think the legislature intended to allow baiting when the Upstate deer regulations were adopted as law in 2008."
Chamblee also explained to the senators why there is a disconnect between baiting laws governing the Upstate and the Lowcountry. The ban on baiting in the Upstate was initiated when deer and turkey were restocked in the region in the 1950s, he said.
"This new stocking program and subsequent hunting seasons required close monitoring and management. Therefore, the ban on bait and the shorter seasons were instituted in the upstate," Chamblee said. "In the coastal plain, these management measures were not put in place because of tradition, much larger tracts of land and often inaccessible swamps that provide superior habitat and cover. Also, as some of you may remember the Piedmont was extensively row cropped until the 1960's. The 'inequity' as it is frequently called, was caused by greater need for management of game species in the Piedmont."
The Senate bill to ban baiting for deer in Game Zones 1 and 2 was introduced by Sen. William H. Odell (R-Abbeville), Sen. Greg Gregory (R-Lancaster) and Sen. Floyd Nicholson (D-Greenwood). The bill clarifies the existing law, which makes it illegal to bait for deer by adding these seven words: "or hunt deer by aid of bait."
Chamblee noted that time is running short in this legislative session to get any action on the concurrent bills. The problem facing the legislators - and SCDNR enforcement - is that 2012 is the second year in a 2-year session that ends June 1.
"In order for a bill to remain active, it has to cross over from one house to the other by the first of May," Chamblee said. "One side has to pass the bill and send it to the other, so we have an uphill battle. It is late in the session to start a bill, but we felt an obligation to try to return traditional hunting to the Piedmont this year."
Chamblee told the senators that the S.C. Wildlife Federation was founded in 1931 to push for modern game laws, game management and law enforcement.
"These efforts led the development of a professional wildlife agency which has evolved into the DNR as we know it today," he said.