Battle brews over control of deer herd

Columbus – Legislation introduced in the Ohio General Assembly
to transfer authority for deer farms and deer preserves to the Ohio
Department of Agriculture is opposed by both the Ohio Departments
of Natural Resources and Agriculture.

“After reviewing both pieces of legislation (in the House and
Senate), we’ve concluded that these proposals are not in the best
interest of Ohioans, nor our livestock and wildlife herds,” said
Cristie Wilts, chief of communication for the DNR.

“We are very close to filing a rule package that takes into
consideration the unique and distinct regulatory responsibilities
of wildlife management at ODNR and animal disease management at
ODA, as well as the concerns in the regulated community,” Wilt
said. “We believe that this is the best approach and will not
warrant legislative action.”

Wilt said neither the ODNR nor ODA had input on the two pieces
of legislation.

“We cannot support either (legislation). There won’t be support
testimony coming from our department,” said ODA Deputy Director
Greg Hargett. Hargett said the best course of action is to adopt a
rules package with the ODNR to address issues in disease management
of the deer herd.

“We have a good working relationship (with the ODNR),” Hargett
said.

Rep. Mark Okey, D-Carrollton, a main sponsor of H.B. 410 and who
is a lawyer, said the Agriculture Department’s position “changes
with the wind. One day they are for it, and one day they are
against it.”

Okey said he was approached by a deer propagator in his
constituency who felt that the DOW was “heavy handed in the
regulation of their industry.” He said he wrote several letters to
the DOW since August 2009 but has not heard anything from the
division.

“They refuse to take a friend’s hand in an offer to help,” Okey
said. “If you think I sound frustrated, that’s an
understatement.”

Okey said his legislation is “sympathetic” to the DOW’s concerns
about regulation of the deer farmers and game preserves.

“I am not the bad guy in this,” he said.

Now Okey said, he is in “sensitive consultations” with ODNR
Director Sean Logan about the legislation.

Okey said his research of the existing laws that pertain to
management of Ohio’s domestic cervids gives authority for
management to the Department of Agriculture and has a legal opinion
from the ODA that supports his findings. He said current law is
“confusing and poorly drafted.”

The perception by some deer farmers that the DOW is heavy handed
in its regulation of the industry is shared by Vaughn Stull of
Uhrichsville, Ohio, who has raised deer since 1998.

When the DOW inspectors show up at his farm, Stull said, “I
think they are more concerned with what they can find is
wrong.”

As for CWD awareness, “We were way ahead of it,” he said. Stull
said the DOW seems to be “pushing health issues to an unreasonable
degree. It is hard to do business “when you have to spend so much
money for health issues.”

Stull also feels the DOW is pitting Ohio’s sportsmen against the
deer farmers.

“We are all animal lovers,” he said.

The Columbus-based U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance said the proposed
legislation could endanger Ohio’s deer herd and issued a statement
in support of the DOW’s continued management of domestic and wild
deer.

“The DOW is the only agency in Ohio with the tools, expertise
and resources available to ensure we protect this great natural
resource,” said Evan Heusinkveld, director of state services for
the Sportsmen’s Alliance, in a news release. “Regulation,
inspection, and enforcement over captive deer facilities should
remain with the DOW.”

Last week, The Plain Dealer of Cleveland reported the Ohio
Senate held a hearing on its bill, Senate Bill 225, which would
require the ODA manage the commercially raised deer herd and the
DOW manage the wild deer herd.

Four ODA veterinarians and eight inspectors handle livestock,
including deer testing, The Plain Dealer reported.

No hearing as yet for House Bill 410, which seeks “to establish
an agricultural deer propagating license, an agricultural deer
hunting preserve license, and corresponding requirements under the
authority of the Director of Agriculture.”

Ohio has 566 domestic deer propagators and 27 hunting preserves,
according to the DOW.

Assistant DOW Chief Jim Marshall said he thinks that the
division has had a good history of oversight of hunting preserves
and deer propagators.

“I think we have established good rules. CWD (Chronic Wasting
Disease) has changed the game nationwide,” he said. “We have to
develop a set of rules that the industry can live with.”

Mandatory CWD testing would be a big part of rule changes, he
said.

CWD is a fatal degenerative brain disease that affects
whitetailed and mule deer and elk. CWD can travel a mile a day in a
wild deer population, Marshall said.

“With propagators, (CWD) can move 60 mph. That’s how fast it is
moving when you put it in the back of a truck,” he said.

Nationwide, CWD has been found in 15 other states and two
Canadian provinces. For the eighth consecutive year, testing has
found no evidence of CWD in Ohio’s deer herd, according to a DOW
news release.

State and federal agriculture and wildlife officials collected
571 samples in 2009 from hunter-harvested deer from 44 counties
mostly during the annual deer gun season. All CWD testing was
performed at the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory of the
DOA.

In addition to CWD, all 571 samples of the hunter-harvested deer
samples were also tested and found negative for bovine
tuberculosis.

Since 2002, the DOW, the ODA, and the U.S. Department of
Agriculture has been conducting surveillance throughout Ohio for
CWD and bovine tuberculosis.

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