DNR considers action by cervidae farmer illegal

Editor

Pillager, Minn. For a minimum of $800, Gary Tank will sell you a
bull elk, dead or alive. The price tag includes antlers, cape, and
meat, and if you choose to shoot that elk on Tank’s property,
that’s your business, he says.

The Minnesota DNR disagrees and says that advertising and
allowing such transactions on his property constitutes a big game
shooting preserve, an illegal activity in Minnesota.

Tank, whose family has been in the deer and elk business for
nearly 40 years, appeared in court last month on a misdemeanor
charge of not maintaining a current game and fur farm license, but
as of early this week, had not been charged for running an illegal
game shooting preserve.

The matter arose again last week after an advertisement appeared
in a Minnesota outdoors publication offering the opportunity to
“Harvest an Elk or Deer for Meat Now”on Tank’s Ranch, near
Pillager. The ad says no application fees or hunting license are
required, and the business is taking orders for “trophy bucks and
bulls” for this fall. His ad offers white-tailed deer bucks for
$500 and up; does for $300; elk bulls for $800 and up; and cow elk
for $600.

The initial response from Bill Spence, operations manager for
DNR Enforcement, to the advertisement was that Tank is hedging his
bets on a shooting preserve bill passing in the Legislature.

But Tank says that’s not the case. He maintains that what he’s
doing is legal that no state statute exists prohibiting the
shooting of big game animals on private property.

“We’ve started it this past fall; we’ve probably killed a dozen
animals, and I intend to keep doing it,” he said. “And I know of
other farms that are doing it.”

Tank says he isn’t selling the animals or advertising their sale
to antagonize the DNR or anyone else. He’s simply trying to salvage
some income from animals that he can no longer transport to other
states as breeding or shooting animals.

The multiple state laws regarding cervidae transport since the
advent of chronic wasting disease in wild deer in Wisconsin and
farmed elk in Minnesota (not Tank’s herd) has cost him dollars that
he’s trying to recoup, he says.

“This is an option I had to explore,” he said. “I and the rest
of the state’s 1,100 deer and elk farms need an income.”

Tank estimates that about half his income comes from the elk and
deer scent products his ranch derives from the urine of his
animals. But simple biology dictates that every summer, he has more
deer and elk than his 185 acres (65 under “high fence”) can
comfortably contain. He estimates that his prefawn deer herd of 180
animals will top 300 by this autumn. His elk herd of 35 animals
will count 50-plus by then, too.

In the past, to thin his herd, Tank has sold breeding animals to
other farms, or deer and elk to shooting preserves in other parts
of the country. Now, even selling animals for Minnesotans to shoot
will mean taking a “huge hit” compared to the income he could
receive from shooting preserves in other states, he says.

Wayne Edgerton, agricultural policy director for the Minnesota
DNR, says it’s the agency’s position that Tank is advertising an
illegal activity. State law relating to shooting preserves only
outlines provisions for birds. It contains nothing about big game,
Edgerton said.

“Though there’s probably no statue that specifically says you
can’t do it, as far as the DNR is concerned, that’s the limit of
shooting preserve opportunities in Minnesota on nonband property,”
he says. “There is no authority that allows shooting of big animals
on private facilities.”

Attempts at the Capitol in recent years by the cervidae industry
to allow shooting of big game in fenced preserves would have added
deer and elk to the list of shootable species, he said. That
legislation has failed in recent sessions and is not expected to
pass in 2003.

“As far as I’m concerned, this is illegal in Minnesota; we’ll
exercise whatever legal authority we have to stop it,” Edgerton
said.

Tank believes it’s not necessary to pass any new legislation for
him to sell his elk to people who want to shoot them.

“I’ve been down to the Capitol testifying on this and everybody
is afraid to talk about game farms and shooting preserves,” he
said. “In my opinion, it’s not necessary, because like I keep
telling everyone it’s not illegal.”

DNR Enforcement provided Outdoor News with the Minnesota Rules
“Chapter 6242,” which applies to shooting preserves and game farms.
Rule 6242.0100 provides a definition of a shooting preserve and
states, “A shooting preserve is a privately operated facility where
protected wild animals are released for shooting outside regularly
established seasons and regulations. Only species authorized on the
shooting preserve license may be released and taken.” It also says
that a person, corporation, or partnership may not operate a
shooting preserve without a valid license.

In the next section, “General Provisions for Shooting
Preserves,”6242.0200, the Rules refer to ducks and pheasants, and
Subpart 7 lists the other species designated for commercial
shooting preserves as “gray partridge and unprotected birds.”

Minnesota Statute 97A.115, says shooting preserves must be out
of the pheasant range and lists species available as “unprotected
birds, adult pheasant, and bob-white quail for private shooting
preserves and adult pheasant, bob-white quail, turkey, mallard
ducks, black duck, and other species designated by the commissioner
for commercial shooting preserves.”

There is no reference to big game animals in either the Rules or
Minnesota Statute 97A regarding shooting preserves.

Tank appeared before a judge in Cass County on April 3 on the
misdemeanor charge. The judge has taken the matter under advisement
and as of early this week, had not issued a ruling. Tank says that
defending himself in the case for not purchasing the $16.50 license
has cost him $7,000 in legal fees.

The DNR’s Spence said the agency likely would be “talking to
him” about the matter.

Tanks says he’s prepared for that, and adds that if the prospect
of shooting a domestic elk repulses anyone, he offers some simple
advice.

“If you don’t like this, don’t come to one,” he said.

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