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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Deer at the County Fair? Missouri Vote Keeps the Wild in Wildlife

In a late-night, nail-biting vote yesterday, the Missouri House of Representatives failed to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would’ve relaxed restrictions on captive deer farms. Language in the bill reclassified captive deer as “livestock” rather than “wildlife.” The Senate had voted to override the veto, and the House failed by just one vote to get the two-thirds majority needed. As Missourinet reported

House Republican leadership kept the voting board open more than 20 minutes while it looked for the 109 votes needed for a veto overturn. When the tally hit 109 the instruction was given to close the board, but one lawmaker, Jeff Roorda of Barnhart, switched his vote from a “yay” to a “nay” at the last moment and the bill failed.

The legislature passed nearly every other veto override that came up yesterday, on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to the budget, and the agriculture bill was the rare exception. It was a big loss for the Missouri Farm Bureau and other interests that want virtually no regulations on any type of farming, no matter how reckless or inhumane. And it was a win for family farmers standing up to Big Ag, as well as for conservation and animal protection advocates who work to stop captive hunting ranches and prevent the spread of disease to native wildlife. 

DEER_blog
Deer in Missouri should be treated as wildlife, not livestock.
John Harrison

When he vetoed the legislation in July, Gov. Nixon noted that “White-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals—no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area,” and that the Department of Conservation should not be “stripped of its authority…in order to protect narrow interests.”

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that Missouri’s deer farms need more regulation, not less. In the Indianapolis Star’s outstanding investigative series “Buck Fever”, reporter Ryan Sabalow notes that chronic wasting disease has been found in 22 states. It’s usually been first detected in captive deer or elk herds before later being found in nearby wildlife.

And bovine tuberculosis has spread from deer farms to cattle in at least four states. Wildlife officials in Missouri and other states “cited gaps in fences, or reports of escapes, at hunting preserves where CWD was found.”

In fact, the report notes, “The discovery of chronic wasting disease in Missouri in 2010 and 2011 is one of many cases that offer strong evidence that farms have helped spread the disease.” More than 30,000 wild deer in the state had been tested for almost a decade without a single positive result.

But after 11 infected deer were found on two game farms, 10 others were found in the wild within two miles of one of the pens—and nowhere else in the state. Missouri officials spent more than $1 million dealing with the outbreak of the disease, which didn’t exist in the wild in Missouri until it was introduced on the preserve.

The shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens not only spreads disease but also makes a mockery of fair-chase hunting. Sabalow cites a case at the Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch in Bland, Missouri: “One bull elk with a tag in its ear [was] lazily chewing its cud in a grassy meadow. It didn’t bother to turn its head as the Durango drove past…[The owner] paid about $4,500 to have the animal shipped in a few weeks earlier from a farm in South Dakota. He said he’d charge the client who put in his order to kill it about $6,500.”

Why would lawmakers put the entire hunting and livestock economy at risk just so a few people can claim a trophy with an easy kill of a tame animal? It’s just common sense that deer should be treated as wildlife, not livestock—after all, when’s the last time you saw a deer shown at the county fair?

Unfortunately, there are special interests that want to profit from the commercialization of wildlife, no matter the costs to the state or public health, and there are politicians who blindly support their agenda, no matter how extreme. Thankfully, in this case, they fell short in their attempt to gut the restrictions, and common sense prevailed.

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