JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Members of the Missouri Deer Breeders Association are claiming that the Department of Conservation is attempting to use its unlimited regulatory authority to regulate them out of business.
“They are intentionally doing all they can to kill our business and force this industry out of Missouri,” Sam James, owner of a captive deer farm in Callaway County, said.
During 2001, the Department of Conservation sent letters to every Missouri deer breeder informing them that a moratorium would be placed on new captive deer farms and the Department would be phasing out existing farms by 2025.
The Department stepped down from the original plan when an agreement was made for the farms to submit to further testing and regulations.
Then, last fall, the Department decided to implement the moratorium on new captive deer farms again because of concerns about Chronic Wasting Disease, an illness that some Missouri deer were affected and ultimately killed by. However, there was a technical issue that led then Secretary of State Robin Carnahan to invalidate the moratorium.
The deer breeders have since begun actively working with legislators to be placed under the Department of Agriculture. The breeders also hired The Giddens Group to lobby on their behalf, and two bills were filed late in the session that would lead to removing the deer breeders from the Department of Conservation’s jurisdiction.
The Department denied they intend to eliminate captive deer farming in Missouri, but said that questions about how the captive deer farms could affect the free-ranging deer herd are driving its concerns.
“We have had one confirmed CWD case in Macon County and have had to go to drastic measures to limit the damage to the free ranging herd,” Aaron Jefferies with the Department of Conservation said. “While the Department of Conservation is responsible for all wildlife health, people should remember that deer hunting in Missouri is a billion dollar a year business that supports a half a million jobs.”
Supporters of captive deer farms point to the way in which elk were reintroduced into Missouri as evidence of a bias in the Department of Conservation.
“They brought elk back into Missouri, transported them across state lines to do so, and could have spread CWD both inside hunting ranges and in the wild,” James said.
Jefferies confirmed that elk imported into the state could be infected with CWD as well. He said the deer breeders are doing everything Department is asking of them.
The debate is now centered around who should ultimately be responsible for regulating the deer breeders.
Currently, the breeders say they are regulated by both the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Conservation, though they want to be regulated solely by the Department of Agriculture.
“It is double regulation,” James said. “We are currently doing everything the Department of Agriculture has asked of us and we are working well with them. Ohio and Iowa followed a growing national trend of having deer breeders regulated by their Departments of Agriculture. Besides, at a time when state funds are scarce it doesn’t make sense that departments should duplicate services.”
The Department of Conservation considers captive deer to be wildlife, and therefore conservation should regulate deer both inside and outside the fence.
“We do work with the Department of Agriculture and it is their responsibility to regulate and manage the animals while they are being transported,” Tom Draper, Deputy Director of the Department of Conservation, said. He added that his department has the responsibility to pass regulations on the deer when they step off the truck.
The Department of Conservation asserted that captive deer are not, and shouldn’t be considered, livestock.
“Captive deer are classified as wildlife because of how they are killed,” Jefferies said. “If they are raised for hunting purposes, they are wildlife. If they are bred for food consumption, then they are livestock. Just because you put it behind a fence doesn’t mean its livestock.”
Since the moratorium was eliminated, negotiations have begun, but have yet to reach a resolution
Currently the Department of Conservation issues permit, producer and fence inspections. During these meetings the Department has asked for six new regulations. The deer breeders state that these six new government regulations could put them out of business.
One of the new regulations is to raise the minimum feet for each fence from eight-feet tall to 10-feet tall.
Draper said “people have complained” about problems with deer jumping the 10-foot fence, but said he hasn’t personally spoken with anyone who has seen a deer make that attempt.
When asked if there have been problems with deer jumping over a 10-foot tall fence Draper said, “people have complained.” However, when asked if he had personally spoke with anyone who had seen a whitetail deer jump a 10-foot fence he said, “no, I don’t take the calls myself.”
Draper said the Department has never received a complaint about that he knows of, saying the Department “has no record of that, but sometimes, trees fall on [the dances].” Draper denied that the a tree falling on a 10-foot fence would make less of a difference than falling on an eight-foot fence. When asked if these new regulations were meant to force captive deer farms out of business he said, “no.”
Neither of the two bills that were filed this session to address the issue made it through.
Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, filed a bill that would redefine the definition of livestock to include captive deer, which would place the captive deer breeders under the regulatory authority of the Department of Agriculture.
“I wanted to bring attention to this issue and begin a conversation, and I believe we were successful,” Richardson said.
Rep. Caleb Jones, R-California, filed a wider-ranging bill, House Joint Resolution 36, which would force the Department of Conservation to submit to the same statutory rule-making process that other departments are required to. There also is discussion of an interim committee on the issue, but nothing is certain yet.
Draper says the Department of Conservation currently isn’t seeking another moratorium.
When Jefferies was asked whether it was the Department’s intent to put deer breeders out of business, his replied, “no, they serve a place and purpose in Missouri and we do not want them out of business.” When Draper was asked if he agreed with Jefferies assessment he replied, “We agree that they currently exist.”
The ill feelings are shared by deer breeders.
“We compete with them for recreational dollars,” James said. “It’s like Burger King regulating McDonalds. They have a personal agenda.”
To contact Scott Faughn, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter at @scottfaughn.