"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Divisive Deer-Pen Hunting Bill Dies In Meeting Of Legislators
Copyright © 2003 by Bill Scifres

The controversial deer-pen hunting bill--House Bill 1977--died in a meeting of legislators and other interested parties on March 12. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued a "white paper" report on the demise of the bill in the "horse trading" meeting. The DNR report follows, in its entirety:

Regulation and Oversight of Captive White-tailed Deer -- March 14, 2003
Deer farms and hunting white-tailed deer in private enclosures is the most divisive wildlife issue of this legislative session.
State legislators and representatives of the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Animal Health met at the Statehouse Wednesday to discuss the issue. They agreed on a course of action to resolve two very controversial actions - one taken by the House of Representatives and another taken by the DNR.
HB 1977, which passed 57 to 41 in the House, will not receive a hearing in the Senate. That bill would have taken away the DNR's authority to regulate deer farms. In exchange, the DNR has rescinded the emergency rule stating that the agency would not issue any new permits to breed white-tailed deer. 
The meeting was attended by Sen. Bob Jackman, Rep. Bill Friend, Rep. Bob Hoffman, Rep. Donald Lehe, Rep. Ron Herrell, Sen. Murray Clark, Sen. Richard Young, Sen. Tom Weatherwax, DNR director John Goss, BOAH attorney Gary Haynes and DNR legislative director Dan Mathis.

Where do we go from here?

1. The DNR and BOAH will work with all the parties to develop an overall blue print for regulation of captive white-tailed deer in the state, including suggestions for statutory changes, if any, and reasonable rules. Also, the meetings would attempt to reduce conflicts and growing bitterness between the parties in the dispute. The DNR suggests further that impartial wildlife scientists, possibly from Purdue, be invited to the meetings to lend their expertise. The goal will be to have a report at the end of the summer that could be presented to the Natural Resources Summer Study Committee upon request

2. The DNR will continue to formulate rules that clarify the game breeder license program, which regulates game mammals, furbearing animals and nonmigratory birds. The agency will continue to seek the advice of the game breeders advisory group, which the DNR established to include representatives of groups interested in the issues common to all game breeder license holders.

3. BOAH will continue to implement its current rules governing captive cervids.

4. BOAH will continue working with captive cervid interests and wildlife and hunting organizations on rules to protect animal health. BOAH staff will meet with captive cervid interests on March 14 and wildlife and hunting groups on March 21 to present the latest information on CWD in North America and listen to comments. The BOAH will consider at its April 17 meeting revised rules to address health issues associated with CWD.

5.    BOAH and DNR will continue to plan, execute, and evaluate CWD surveillance strategies for the free-ranging white-tailed deer herd in Indiana as needed to detect and control CWD. 

Background White-tailed deer game breeders
The Department of Natural Resources has issued 182 licenses for 2003 to breed white-tailed deer. By comparison, there were 148 licenses issued in 1997, 242 in 2001 and 263 licenses issued in 2002.
The 182 game breeders reported possession of 4,057 deer in 2002. The vast majority of the breeders own fewer than 20 deer. One breeder owns nearly one-third of the 4,057 deer reported by licensed breeders. The second highest number owned by a breeder is 100 deer.
Deer breeders reported in 2002 that they purchased 91 deer and that 593 deer were born in captivity. The breeders reported that 18 deer escaped and 436 were sold. Also, the breeders reported that 454 deer died in captivity or 18 deer more than they sold.
Prior to the detection of chronic wasting disease outside of the Western Plains, Hoosier deer breeders reported that they sold deer to people in a variety of states including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Minnesota, Texas, Michigan and Missouri. One Indiana breeder reported in 2001 that he received $18,000 for one deer. Another breeder reported that he had received $14,000 for a single deer. Prices vary based on the size of a deer's antlers, which are desirable as a trophy.
Today, most states have taken steps to control the movement of cervids.  Most states have stopped the importation of white-tailed deer and other cervids from any area where CWD has been diagnosed and some states have prohibited cervid imports from any state.  

Regulatory responsibilities of the DNR
The DNR is responsible for protecting and properly managing all fish and wildlife resources of Indiana. White-tailed deer are a wild animal according to Indiana law. Indiana law allows game mammals to be possessed, bought or sold for propagation purposes only. 
A game-breeders license does not authorize the license holder to hunt a game animal. Hunting, according to Indiana law, may occur only within designated seasons and in accordance with rules established by the DNR. Early archery deer season begins in mid-October with firearms season running from mid November to December 1. Archery season concludes the first Sunday of January. 
A deer-hunting license is not required for an individual, a spouse or child who hunts on his or her own property. A deer-hunting license is required for people hunting on another person's property. The firearms license allows the hunter to take one antlered deer and the archery license allows one antlered and one antlerless, or two antlerless deer. Bonus antlerless permits may be purchased.

Regulatory responsibilities of BOAH
The Board of Animal Health supervises the prevention, suppression, control, and eradication of diseases affecting the health of animals and the safety of products derived from animals. Under BOAH statutes cervidae are animals and cervidae that are not wild are defined as livestock. BOAH responsibilities include the state meat inspection program that includes "farm raised cervidae" under its jurisdiction. BOAH duties extend to all cervidae species, not just white-tailed deer. 
In 2000 BOAH began to register captive elk premises and test cervid mortality from those locations for chronic wasting disease (CWD). In 2002 the BOAH began registering all premises with captive cervids and testing cervid mortality from those locations for CWD. BOAH anticipates registering a total of approximately 350 premises. BOAH has found at least five different types of cervid operations: 
A person that keeps deer as a hobby. Many of these people describe the deer as "my pets". 

  • A rehabilitator. 
  • An exhibitor (zoo, petting zoo, etc...)
  • A commercial breeding operation. 
  • A person that offers the opportunity to hunt deer in fenced acreage.    
Any one operation/premises may include one or more of the above activities. The registrants are reporting to BOAH that their animals are from the Indiana wild herd, from other Indiana cervid premises, natural additions born in Indiana, and from other states and Canada. 
In April 2002 the BOAH imposed a moratorium on the movement of live cervids, cervid embryos, and cervid semen into the state. This moratorium expires May 1, 2003. The BOAH will make a decision on extending the moratorium at its April 17, 2003 meeting.
In addition to the captive cervid surveillance program, BOAH has worked with the IDNR on surveillance in the free-ranging white-tailed deer population. The free ranging surveillance program includes targeted testing of deer that appear abnormal and testing of a statistically sound sample of hunter harvested deer from the Fall 2002 hunting season. No CWD has been detected in samples from Indiana so far.

Legislative background
How to regulate the deer farming industry and shooting deer on these farms has been the subject of two natural resources summer study committees and several bills that would either expand or restrict the state's regulatory responsibilities. 
Opposing forces went to the Indiana General Assembly again this year hoping that their sides would prevail in a legislative showdown. 
The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee considered opposing points of view and possible compromise. The committee referred the matter to the 2003 summer study committee. The DNR understood the message to be that the status quo should be maintained on the issue. 
To that end, DNR director John Goss issued an emergency rule stating that the DNR would continue to renew permits to breed white-tailed deer, but the agency would not issue any new permits for that purpose. Goss reasoned that this move would maintain the status quo by preventing further proliferation of deer farms when other states have closed their borders to
the importation of white-tailed deer.
Opponents to hunting on deer farms applauded the action. Deer farmers booed.
Legislators told the DNR that the agency got their message wrong. In a vote of 57 to 41, the Indiana House or Representatives passed a bill that would take away DNR authority to regulate deer farms, which would make the state Board of Animal Health solely responsible for regulating the industry--including harvesting deer.
Legislators told the DNR that they considered the agency's ban on new permits as a violation of the truce they declared by referring the matter to summer study committee.
It was understood by all who attended the March 12 meeting that the philosophical issues related to hunting and the health issues related to CWD must be separated and discussed using factual information, while holding emotional input to a minimum.
It also was agreed that DNR and BOAH would continue to work together and with the various groups to develop and maintain policies that value free enterprise, the health of all deer in Indiana and principles of fair chase.
DNR director Goss' apology about the implementation of the emergency rule was heard and accepted by the legislators who attended the March 12 meeting. Legislators said that they very much appreciated his sincerity.

For more information: Stephen Sellers, DNR communications director, 317-232-4003.

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