A Growing Threat

A Growing Threat

HOW DEER BREEDING COULD PUT PUBLIC TRUST WILDLIFE AT RISK

By James E. Miller
Professor Emeritus, Mississippi State University

A recent news story in Iowa’s The Gazette began: “Iowa’s first seven cases of chronic wasting disease—all directly related to confined white-tailed deer—have put a bull’s eye on the backs of the state’s deer breeders and the pay-to-shoot facilities they supply” (The Gazette 2012). Less than one month later, Pennsylvania confirmed its first case of CWD, which was traced to a deer farm in Adams County (The Sentinel 2012). And in Indiana, an October 19 news report noted concerns about the spread of CWD after 20 deer escaped from a farm that was breeding trophy bucks for fenced-in private hunting preserves (Indystar.com 2012). That article quoted Indiana’s DNR spokesman as saying the case “underscores the concern many have about how the commercialization of wildlife and interstate trafficking in wildlife presents a Pandora’s Box, with the potential spread of a deadly disease that does have some wide-ranging consequences.”

Wide-ranging consequences indeed. The spread of chronic wasting disease from captive deer populations is only one of many potential problems related to the commercialization of Public Trust Wildlife (PTW) resources. Under the guise of promoting “economic development,” thousands of for-profit deer-breeding and canned-shooting operations have proliferated across the nation. Their proponents are aggressively promoting legislation to expand the industry—a trend that has snowballed since 2007.

All wildlife professionals who care about wildlife resources should take note—and take action. Such legislation has the potential to shift authority for PTW resources, specifically captive white-tailed deer, away from state fish and wildlife agencies to departments of agriculture or state veterinarians, thereby undermining science-based management by wildlife biologists. The rise of deer breeding and farming also threatens fair-chase hunting, our nation’s hunting heritage, funding for conservation, wildlife health, and the essential principles of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, which created the greatest wildlife restoration in history. Unless we’re willing to accept these consequences, we need to fight.