Though Lann Wilf won’t officially say that the recent easing of laws allowing hunting deer over bait had anything do with his resigning as the state’s deer program coordinator, the timing of his move is hard to ignore.

On Sept. 16, the same day that Mississippi’s Commission on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks would later make the regulation change, Wilf handed in his paperwork to leave the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. 

Wilf, popular with deer hunters, said he had accepted a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services.

Asked if baiting had any impact on his decision, Wilf told The Clarion-Ledger “I’m not going to comment on that publicly; let’s just leave it at that.”

While it’s no secret that MDWFP biologists have long opposed shooting deer over bait, their opinions on the subject — and other controversial topics — have been limited to toeing the agency line. That line, which a decade ago was opposed to baiting, has shifted to the point where a 5-0 vote in August by the Commission removed regulatory language prohibiting hunting within line of sight of a feeder. They gave it final approval by a 4-1 vote at last week’s September meeting.

The new regulation takes effect Nov. 1. Mississippi’s first gun season, open only to youths 15 and under, opens Nov. 7.

“Why have biologists if you are not going to listen to them?” asked hunter Ryan Thomas of Brandon. “I don’t care what the topic is, if you have trained biologists who say it is bad, and you do not listen, then what’s the point of having them? I don’t really care about baiting, but what I’m concerned about is that we have lay people, which is what the Commission is, Governor-appointed people from the private sector, who think they know more than trained biologists.

“Or worse, we have Commissioners who listen to outsiders and not to biologists. I don’t know which is worse, but I do know that neither is good.”

After the August meeting, Commission chairman Charles Rigdon of Columbus defended the change because an agency survey showed that 62 percent of Mississippians favored removing the line of sight language.

The Mississippi Wildlife Federation and Quality Deer Management Association have already questioned making the change without including the input of agency technical staff.