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Is it Time to Better Regulate Captive Deer Operations?

March 31, 2014
Is it Time to Better Regulate Captive Deer Operations? - 15

Back in 2000, voters in my home state of Montana passed Constitutional Initiative 143, effectively ending the controversial business of game farming.

The catalyst for the initiative was the discovery of chronic wasting disease in a captive elk facility near Philipsburg, in the very heart of Montana’s wild-elk country. Elk in the facility were quarantined, then euthanized (shot by government marksmen), and later tested for always-fatal CWD, for which there is no cure and which is easily transmittable to wild deer and elk.

The months leading up to the vote that ended game farming was hugely polarized, with pro-business groups claiming that voters were improperly impinging a legitimate industry, while hunting groups mostly argued that a few poorly regulated operators were putting Montana’s publically owned wildlife—and the $500 million-a-year hunting industry—at inappropriate risk.

I’m happy to report that hunters won that round, and I haven’t talked to anyone in the last 14 years who misses the penned-elk business.

I mention this in the context of a new wave of attention that’s being directed at captive-cervid operations nationwide. This weekend, the Indianapolis Star published a remarkable series of investigative reports about how the deer farming industry works, who promotes it, and how the line between wild, free-ranging deer and eartagged, genetically enhanced captive deer is blurred in many states. Even the legal definition of deer—“wildlife” vs. “livestock”—is being deliberately muddied by those who raise and sell deer for their oversized antlers.

The issue of managing captive-cervid operations got further momentum when it was identified as one of the top risks to wild whitetails by deer-management experts at the North American Whitetail Summit earlier this month.

Problems with captive deer operations range from the biological and epidemiological—they tend to be loci for diseases that could spread to wild populations of game animals—to the social. Poorly informed voters can easily confuse shooting a penned deer with the noble pursuit of fair-chase deer hunting.

But summit participants also noted that curtailing captive cervid operations is a complicated issue, not only because of the legal and political risks of taking on a powerful lobby, but also because condemning every high-fenced deer farm could be considered anti-hunting. Does pursuing a deer in a 10,000-acre enclosure differ from pursuing one in a corral?

The issues are anything but simple, but it’s time that we hunters had a stronger voice in the debate.

What’s your take on deer farms? Are they a threat to our wild animals? Are they a legitimate business? Would you shoot a pen-raised deer? Should captive operations be more tightly regulated? Weigh in here and add your voice to what’s likely to be a hotter debate in the months and years to come.

Photo: Deardeerfarm

 

Comments (15)

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from MWK_MN wrote 16 weeks 1 day ago

There's the possibility of deer escaping and spreading their genetics into the herd which will not be able to be controlled once it happens. I would never want to purchase land in an area where the big bucks are possibly a result of escaped high fenced deer.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

All they have to do is what Ohio did and make every "Farmer" test each deer every year which costs roughly $200 and that will put them out of business in no time. This law passed in 2012 and a friend who's uncle raised deer (300+) for estrous had to put them all down because he couldn't afford the $60,000 a year to test them. All 300+ were donated to local food pantries and the Hunters for the Hungry Program. Now this won't wipe out the high fence hunting but it will make it less marketable along with ensuring that any and all diseases are caught quickly.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

"With any livestock industry there is a certain amount of risk of spreading disease." - Is the risk worth the reward? Sure there is risk in farming for cattle, but how many people benefit from that risk. How many people consume the meat? The risk is there, but the reward is great. How much does society benefit from the risk of a deer farm? Have you seen a pie chart on how many people are fed deer from a deer farm? Where's the reward for the public's risk? It does not make any kind of sense to allow this to continue.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

If I owned land for deer hunting in Wisconsin in one of the damaged counties I would file a class action lawsuit against the deer farmers for the fair market value loss associated with my land. Hunters that have saved money for years and years to purchase hunting land are watching their investments dwindle down to nothing. Who would want to purchase deer hunting land in a high infected CWD area? Who would want to purchase contiguous land by a deer farm? Maybe the EPA needs to get more involved?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from horsethief wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

I have nothing against deer / elk farms, but I believe they must be regulated by the state like what lpranicki wrote about in Wisconsin. The unregulated farms are a threat to the wild game, but the threat can be largely eliminated by proper controls. Who pays for it? Simple -- the people who hunt these areas! While they are a legitimate business, it is not one that I would support with my time and money. This is about a choice, and I choose not to hunt high fence areas and I see no sporting value in it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from lprasnicki wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

With any livestock industry there is a certain amount of risk of spreading disease. Most recently, the state of North Dakota allowed illegal cattle to enter their state. They did send them back for more testing, but when they were allowed in legally unfortunately the cattle carried TB and now North Dakota is dealing with trace outs and is costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars to eliminate TB from their state. Why don't we ever hear any of you talk about this huge disease risk? TB can and will spread to the wild deer herds and it WILL affect humans. Just ask the state of Minnesota and Michigan what it cost their states to try and eliminate TB from the wild deer herd that was brought in by the cattle industry.

The only reason we continue to here about CWD is because the wildlife agencies and some hunting groups want to see the deer and elk industry put out of business. CWD has very little affect on the wild populations, unlike EHD which continues to kill thousands of deer every year and has forced states to give money back for hunting licenses. Why don't we all focus on the real threat to the wild populations around the country. Here is Wisconsin where CWD is very prevalent, we still do not have deer dying from CWD.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

"As long as high fence animals aren't, allowed to be entered in record books then I really don't care." - The sad thing is they are. SCI will allow you to put them in their book. For this reason alone I will never support anything SCI does and I do see that they do alot of good things in conservation.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from asrenstrom wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

lprasnicki - It seems like that was quite well researched information and both sides of the story were presented; I don't think you deserve to say false information was presented if you actually read that whole article. Clearly there are laws in place, but they are not all being followed and the deer farmer association seems to be pushing very hard to stay in the middle of agrictulture and conservation so that they can continue to fall through the cracks and stay unchecked in how they operate and whether or not they are ethical. It seems a lot of the farmers know that unethical practices are being followed (whether or not they themselves are, some of them recognize there is something shady about their industry). The biggest problem I have is the lack of information from farmers when deer are unaccounted for, and the regulating agency (DNR, gov't, etc.) just says ok and maybe slaps a fine on there, which has happened multiple documented times. Deer can't go unaccounted for when the threat for spreading CWD and other diseases (you can say it's not proven, but most would argue against that) is so high, and would destroy vast amounts of wildlife that account for a hunting and conservation industry that is so much larger and valuable (financially and morally) than the niche of deer farmers and high fence hunters. Throw ethics out the window for cash, and charge tens of thousands for a high fence hunt, that's fine; what's not fine is the risk and ignorance you pose by not guaranteeing a spread of disease. There should be no second chance on that. It sounds like you are trying to do the right thing within your industry, and I applaud you for that, but also ask you to realize that not everyone is doing the right thing, and that you will be grouped with them in terms of liability.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

I guess if a state wants to ban game farms it's their business. I can understand why a farm might be a problem in a certain area. Do I care if someone wants to shoot game in a high fence operation? Not really. It is their choice. The question is where do you draw the line? What about farms that stock pheasants, chukar partridge, etc? As long as high fence animals aren't, allowed to be entered in record books then I really don't care. As Huntfishtrap mentions there must be strict regulation and frequent inspections.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

I want to start breeding coyotes for pets and to sell for practice for .223's. It's my given right. I will breed them for the next 40 years until they have the biggest looking fangs for teeth you have ever seen. It's my God given right to do this and the government should not over reach or tell me what to do. I then might move onto hybrid raccoons. Try for 200 pounders. Do you not see how insane this is and looks?

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

It's farming not hunting. The problem with deer farming is the spread of diseases and the complications of when they get loose. Yes they do get loose. The most unregulated portion is how the killing is done. With most farming the department of ag says: hair net, white coat & bolt gun. Oh maybe this isn't about the meat?

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from lprasnicki wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

Most of you have no clue how much regulation is currently in place for deer and elk farmers. The deer and elk industry is the most regulated of any agricultural industry. Here in Wisconsin we cannot move a deer across the street without a health paper from our vet; all deer have to be TB tested and CWD certified in order to move. All of our records have to be reconciled by the state on a yearly basis and if anything is out of order, we lose our herd status and cannot move live animals for 5 years. None of you are telling the public the truth about all of the regulations we go through to raise deer. All they tell you is how unregulated we are. Anyone who moves deer illegally across state lines pays a fine and goes to prison. Some have been fined for more than $1 million and receive a felony for life and serve prison time, so don't tell me we need more severe penalties and more regulations. People who move cattle illegally are send home with the animals until they can test the animals for legal movement....no killing of the animals on the spot and no prison time. We do not condone illegal movement of any animals including deer, but please don't mislead the public with false information.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from asrenstrom wrote 16 weeks 4 days ago

Just spent the better portion of my work day flipping between that full Indianapolis Star article and actually doing my work. Nothing good to say about the farms after reading that. I would skew my previous comment to be even more critical of the farms, tighter regs immediately, and more punishment for lack of following the already existing rules. Every time a rule has been broken, someone is looking the other way while it is swept under the table. There is way too much at stake for this small population to be running so loose and free, and doing whatever they want to make more money and ignore their negative impact.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from asrenstrom wrote 16 weeks 4 days ago

Agreed with everything said by huntfishtrap. I would never partake (even a single deer in 10,000 acres), and I would never consider it to be actual hunting. Every year in November, we'll get pictures at deer camp of a friend who goes to a high-fence "hunt" and buys a trophy. And every year, I couldn't care less that he isn't with us because he doesn't understand or appreciate why we are in the woods instead of a fenced area above a feeder with lights. That being said, they are legit businesses, but considering their proven threat to wild deer, they need to be regulated much more tightly. There should be a zero-tolerance, one-and-done policy that shuts them down if an outbreak or escape happens. Considering the money going into these places for unique racks, there is plenty of cash to handle keeping captive-deer in their pens without escapees spreading CWD.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from huntfishtrap wrote 16 weeks 4 days ago

I would not shoot a pen-raised deer, and I do not considering shooting high-fenced animals to be "hunting". With that being said, I do think they're legitimate businesses though, and I think banning them outright is a bit of a governmental overreach.
I think they should be VERY tightly regulated however, and there should be regular inspections of every deer farm, to make sure they're following the regulations.

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from huntfishtrap wrote 16 weeks 4 days ago

I would not shoot a pen-raised deer, and I do not considering shooting high-fenced animals to be "hunting". With that being said, I do think they're legitimate businesses though, and I think banning them outright is a bit of a governmental overreach.
I think they should be VERY tightly regulated however, and there should be regular inspections of every deer farm, to make sure they're following the regulations.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from asrenstrom wrote 16 weeks 4 days ago

Just spent the better portion of my work day flipping between that full Indianapolis Star article and actually doing my work. Nothing good to say about the farms after reading that. I would skew my previous comment to be even more critical of the farms, tighter regs immediately, and more punishment for lack of following the already existing rules. Every time a rule has been broken, someone is looking the other way while it is swept under the table. There is way too much at stake for this small population to be running so loose and free, and doing whatever they want to make more money and ignore their negative impact.

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

It's farming not hunting. The problem with deer farming is the spread of diseases and the complications of when they get loose. Yes they do get loose. The most unregulated portion is how the killing is done. With most farming the department of ag says: hair net, white coat & bolt gun. Oh maybe this isn't about the meat?

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

I want to start breeding coyotes for pets and to sell for practice for .223's. It's my given right. I will breed them for the next 40 years until they have the biggest looking fangs for teeth you have ever seen. It's my God given right to do this and the government should not over reach or tell me what to do. I then might move onto hybrid raccoons. Try for 200 pounders. Do you not see how insane this is and looks?

+4 Good Comment? | | Report
from asrenstrom wrote 16 weeks 4 days ago

Agreed with everything said by huntfishtrap. I would never partake (even a single deer in 10,000 acres), and I would never consider it to be actual hunting. Every year in November, we'll get pictures at deer camp of a friend who goes to a high-fence "hunt" and buys a trophy. And every year, I couldn't care less that he isn't with us because he doesn't understand or appreciate why we are in the woods instead of a fenced area above a feeder with lights. That being said, they are legit businesses, but considering their proven threat to wild deer, they need to be regulated much more tightly. There should be a zero-tolerance, one-and-done policy that shuts them down if an outbreak or escape happens. Considering the money going into these places for unique racks, there is plenty of cash to handle keeping captive-deer in their pens without escapees spreading CWD.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

"With any livestock industry there is a certain amount of risk of spreading disease." - Is the risk worth the reward? Sure there is risk in farming for cattle, but how many people benefit from that risk. How many people consume the meat? The risk is there, but the reward is great. How much does society benefit from the risk of a deer farm? Have you seen a pie chart on how many people are fed deer from a deer farm? Where's the reward for the public's risk? It does not make any kind of sense to allow this to continue.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from Dcast wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

All they have to do is what Ohio did and make every "Farmer" test each deer every year which costs roughly $200 and that will put them out of business in no time. This law passed in 2012 and a friend who's uncle raised deer (300+) for estrous had to put them all down because he couldn't afford the $60,000 a year to test them. All 300+ were donated to local food pantries and the Hunters for the Hungry Program. Now this won't wipe out the high fence hunting but it will make it less marketable along with ensuring that any and all diseases are caught quickly.

+3 Good Comment? | | Report
from DSMbirddog wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

I guess if a state wants to ban game farms it's their business. I can understand why a farm might be a problem in a certain area. Do I care if someone wants to shoot game in a high fence operation? Not really. It is their choice. The question is where do you draw the line? What about farms that stock pheasants, chukar partridge, etc? As long as high fence animals aren't, allowed to be entered in record books then I really don't care. As Huntfishtrap mentions there must be strict regulation and frequent inspections.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

"As long as high fence animals aren't, allowed to be entered in record books then I really don't care." - The sad thing is they are. SCI will allow you to put them in their book. For this reason alone I will never support anything SCI does and I do see that they do alot of good things in conservation.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from schmakenzie wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

If I owned land for deer hunting in Wisconsin in one of the damaged counties I would file a class action lawsuit against the deer farmers for the fair market value loss associated with my land. Hunters that have saved money for years and years to purchase hunting land are watching their investments dwindle down to nothing. Who would want to purchase deer hunting land in a high infected CWD area? Who would want to purchase contiguous land by a deer farm? Maybe the EPA needs to get more involved?

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from MWK_MN wrote 16 weeks 1 day ago

There's the possibility of deer escaping and spreading their genetics into the herd which will not be able to be controlled once it happens. I would never want to purchase land in an area where the big bucks are possibly a result of escaped high fenced deer.

+2 Good Comment? | | Report
from lprasnicki wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

Most of you have no clue how much regulation is currently in place for deer and elk farmers. The deer and elk industry is the most regulated of any agricultural industry. Here in Wisconsin we cannot move a deer across the street without a health paper from our vet; all deer have to be TB tested and CWD certified in order to move. All of our records have to be reconciled by the state on a yearly basis and if anything is out of order, we lose our herd status and cannot move live animals for 5 years. None of you are telling the public the truth about all of the regulations we go through to raise deer. All they tell you is how unregulated we are. Anyone who moves deer illegally across state lines pays a fine and goes to prison. Some have been fined for more than $1 million and receive a felony for life and serve prison time, so don't tell me we need more severe penalties and more regulations. People who move cattle illegally are send home with the animals until they can test the animals for legal movement....no killing of the animals on the spot and no prison time. We do not condone illegal movement of any animals including deer, but please don't mislead the public with false information.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from asrenstrom wrote 16 weeks 3 days ago

lprasnicki - It seems like that was quite well researched information and both sides of the story were presented; I don't think you deserve to say false information was presented if you actually read that whole article. Clearly there are laws in place, but they are not all being followed and the deer farmer association seems to be pushing very hard to stay in the middle of agrictulture and conservation so that they can continue to fall through the cracks and stay unchecked in how they operate and whether or not they are ethical. It seems a lot of the farmers know that unethical practices are being followed (whether or not they themselves are, some of them recognize there is something shady about their industry). The biggest problem I have is the lack of information from farmers when deer are unaccounted for, and the regulating agency (DNR, gov't, etc.) just says ok and maybe slaps a fine on there, which has happened multiple documented times. Deer can't go unaccounted for when the threat for spreading CWD and other diseases (you can say it's not proven, but most would argue against that) is so high, and would destroy vast amounts of wildlife that account for a hunting and conservation industry that is so much larger and valuable (financially and morally) than the niche of deer farmers and high fence hunters. Throw ethics out the window for cash, and charge tens of thousands for a high fence hunt, that's fine; what's not fine is the risk and ignorance you pose by not guaranteeing a spread of disease. There should be no second chance on that. It sounds like you are trying to do the right thing within your industry, and I applaud you for that, but also ask you to realize that not everyone is doing the right thing, and that you will be grouped with them in terms of liability.

+1 Good Comment? | | Report
from horsethief wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

I have nothing against deer / elk farms, but I believe they must be regulated by the state like what lpranicki wrote about in Wisconsin. The unregulated farms are a threat to the wild game, but the threat can be largely eliminated by proper controls. Who pays for it? Simple -- the people who hunt these areas! While they are a legitimate business, it is not one that I would support with my time and money. This is about a choice, and I choose not to hunt high fence areas and I see no sporting value in it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from lprasnicki wrote 16 weeks 2 days ago

With any livestock industry there is a certain amount of risk of spreading disease. Most recently, the state of North Dakota allowed illegal cattle to enter their state. They did send them back for more testing, but when they were allowed in legally unfortunately the cattle carried TB and now North Dakota is dealing with trace outs and is costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars to eliminate TB from their state. Why don't we ever hear any of you talk about this huge disease risk? TB can and will spread to the wild deer herds and it WILL affect humans. Just ask the state of Minnesota and Michigan what it cost their states to try and eliminate TB from the wild deer herd that was brought in by the cattle industry.

The only reason we continue to here about CWD is because the wildlife agencies and some hunting groups want to see the deer and elk industry put out of business. CWD has very little affect on the wild populations, unlike EHD which continues to kill thousands of deer every year and has forced states to give money back for hunting licenses. Why don't we all focus on the real threat to the wild populations around the country. Here is Wisconsin where CWD is very prevalent, we still do not have deer dying from CWD.

-2 Good Comment? | | Report

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