Feds To Ban Import/Export Of Captive Deer?
June 12, 2014
I’ve been following several developments around the captive deer breeding industry of late, and things are getting interesting (to say the least).
In Missouri, there’s an effort to transfer the management of captive deer and elk to the Department of Agriculture, and take away the authority of the state’s wildlife agency. This is in response, apparently, to recent proposed legislation by the wildlife agency that would impose strict limitations on the farms, including import restrictions and tougher rules about containment fences. I don’t have all the details here, and I don’t even know what kind of impact the farmers would be looking at, but the conflict definitely illustrates some of the challenges facing the deer breeding industry overall… as well as the challenges to the states to manage the health of native, wild populations.
And, on the federal level, several state representatives, led by U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Virginia, have submitted a letter (click here to download and read the letter) to the Secretary of Agriculture requesting a federal-level ban on interstate import of captive cervids.
While I’ve got some personally mixed feelings about the industry, particularly the inconsistent regulation around health inspections and management of captive herds; I also find some of the justifications behind the proposed bans and management questionable.
For example, in the letter to the USDA, an entire paragraph is couched in loaded, negatively-charged language aimed at the emotional arguments against high-fence hunting. Just take a look at the way this thing is worded:
Interstate commerce in captive cervids has exploded in recent decades, as canned-hunting facilities seek to increase their profits by breeding deer and elk with abnormally-large antlers and stocking large herds so they can guarantee a kill. Animals raised at canned-hunting facilities often are accustomed to human presence and therefore do not flee at the sight of trophy hunters. The lack of fair-chase in these operations has led hunting groups like Boone Crockett, Pope Young, and the Izaak Walton League to oppose such unsporting activities.
Because I know that the folks who craft these communications are professional spin-managers, I also know that it is no accident that this emotionally-driven, non-scientific claptrap is delivered before any factual or scientific arguments are made. The obvious intent is to prejudice the reader (because not only did this go to Secretary Vilsack, it was meant to find its way to the general public as well). It’s a tactic heavily used by anti-hunting organizations such as HSUS and PETA, and its use in this letter makes me question the real agenda behind the effort.
What’s even more critical here, is that the paragraph that purports to address the scientific justifications for the ban appears to entirely draw its conclusions based on a series of articles from the Indianapolis newspaper, the Indy Star.
According to a recent series of investigative reports by the Indianapolis Star, and supported by multiple scientifc studies, deer and elk kept in these confined breeding operations are particularly susceptible to chronic wasting disease (CWD), a prion infection related to Mad Cow disease that is always fatal to deer and elk (whether wild or captive) and has been found in 22 states. Further, Bovine Tuberculosis has been found in at least 50 captive deer and elk herds across the country, having spread from captive-bred deer to cattle in four states already. Captive-bred cervids are kept in close quarters and thus are particularly susceptible to acquiring and transmitting these infectious diseases, which are known to affect wild cervids and livestock and which could evolve to infect humans that consume venison from CWD infected animals.
Now I read this “investigative series” a little while back, and even commented on it here on the Hog Blog. As I said then, I found the piece interesting, particularly in regards to the history of the deer farming industry. I also thought some of the questions it raised about disease were compelling, and certainly worth review. At the same time, I questioned the general slant of the piece as a pretty obvious bias became clear about halfway through the four-part series. But whatever else it did, it raised more questions than it answered, and it sure as hell doesn’t serve as any sort of factual basis for federal, regulatory action.
The overarching conflict here is no surprise to me, and it certainly shouldn’t come as a shock to the deer farming and high-fence hunting industries. It’s been boiling up for a while, particularly as the arguments about CWD have raged back and forth. Unfortunately, as always happens with this kind of topic, the discussion has become overly politicized and emotional. The issue has become a rallying flag for agenda-driven organizations, whether Boone and Crockett or HSUS (and in this debate, I think the lines between the two get blurry… there, I said it) and the conversation becomes a matter of public opinion rather than science and logic.
There is no question that captive deer breeding facilities and high-fence ranches have the potential to negatively impact both the wild environment and agriculture… whether they’re raising deer, elk, or wild boar. It stands to reason that these risks need to be mitigated, and that mitigation requires consistent regulation. Some regulation is already in place, but it is not as consistent as it needs to be. Both the states and the federal government should be working on this, with industry input. The traditional livestock industry already lives with this model. Why should the deer or exotic game industry be any different?
At the same time, the risks need to be realistically gauged, and regulation should be commensurate with the science… not with the panic generated by people and organizations who have an agenda to push.