Bills Threaten Health of Missouri’s Deer Population

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*Written by State Representative Chris Kelly 

Jefferson City, MO | June 5, 2014 – Two bills, passed in the recent session of the Missouri General Assembly, seriously threaten the health of Missouri’s deer population. House Bill 1326 and Senate Bill 506 both contain language that forces the Department of Conservation to transfer management of captive deer to the Department of Agriculture.

Chronic wasting disease is a virus that infects and kills the various cervid species (deer, elk, moose, etc.) It is 100 percent fatal with no cure or vaccination available. There is no live animal test, and only dead animals can be tested for the disease. CWD was first detected in a captive shooting pen in Macon and Linn counties and was later discovered in wild deer a few miles from the infected facility.

The Missouri Department of Conservation is concerned and believes the movement of captive deer between facilities elevates the risk of spreading the disease. The farms that raise and provide trophy bucks disagree. They contend that there is no proof that CWD can be tied to captive deer and have lobbied the Legislature to transfer management of captive deer from the Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture, where they expect to exert more political control over the regulatory process.

Some history is in order. In 1937 there were fewer than 500 deer in Missouri. The Department of Conservation began managing the whitetail population and by 1944 we again had a short, whitetail hunting season. By 1976, the department was given the tools it needed for effective species management and the whitetail restoration effort blossomed, resulting in an estimated 1.4 million Missouri whitetail deer by 2012, when 500,000 hunters participated in the sport of deer hunting, taking more than 300,000 deer and contributing tens of millions of dollars to our economy. Deer are not the department’s only success. We are all aware of their work with turkeys and more than 20 other species. Missouri’s Department of Conservation is renowned as one of the nation’s finest wildlife management agencies.

The captive cervid industry selectively breeds bucks for abnormally large antler racks and allows people to enter fenced enclosures to shoot the trophy buck of their choice. If a given facility does not have a buck that meets the demands of the buyer, the facility orders it from a similar breeder in another state. The buck is then drugged and shipped to Missouri, where it may be shot, sometimes while still drugged.

The Department of Conservation and many similar wildlife management and conservation agencies believe the movement of captive deer increases the chances of spreading the disease. We also know that captive deer sometime escape from their fenced enclosures. CWD outbreaks have been documented in several captive herds. Since 2003, the number of states with CWD-positive herds has expanded from 27 to 39 in captive elk herds and 2 to 19 in captive deer herds. While there is a CWD monitoring program for captive deer, breeders are not required to participate, allowing CWD-positive herds to enjoy certified herd status.

Why would the Missouri General Assembly consider terminating Department of Conservation management of deer and transferring it to Agriculture, when Agriculture testified against the legislation? Because the big buck breeders are afraid that the Department of Conservation will regulate their industry in order to mitigate CWD. The buck farmers have made massive political contributions and have been able to convince the Republican leadership to prevent any amendments that would remove the captive cervid language from the Agriculture bill, including an amendment that would have prevented deer from being shot while drugged.

The leadership knew that the majority of representatives opposed the transfer of deer management. They also knew that if the captive cervid language stayed in the Agriculture bills it would make it difficult for the governor to veto them. They therefore refused to recognize any representative, of either party, who offered an amendment to remove the language.

Two well-respected hunting groups agree with my position. The Missouri Conservation Federation is actively opposing the bill and urging Gov. Jay Nixon to veto it. The Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest and most respected hunting organization in the world, pointedly said. “This is not hunting.” Further, they will not allow bucks taken from hunting enclosures to be counted in their trophy statistics, and they agree with wildlife biologists that the transportation of captive cervids is the likely cause of the spread of CWD.

Gov. Nixon has an unenviable job as he considers whether to veto these bills. They have other worthwhile sections. Because a bill has some good parts is not reason to allow such a dangerous threat to our native deer. I hope the governor will veto the bill. If you agree, please encourage him to do so.

State Rep. Chris Kelly, a Democrat, represents the 45th District in Columbia, Mo.


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