Yoder charged in chronic wasting disease case
Millersburg, Ohio — A Holmes County trophy deer farm owner has been charged with four felony counts of tampering with evidence as part of a criminal investigation involving fatal chronic wasting disease by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Daniel Yoder, owner of Worldclass Whitetails of Ohio in Millersburg, was charged Feb. 5 in Holmes County Municipal Court based on complaints filed by William Lesho, an ODA law enforcement agent, naming Yoder in two counts and his business in two counts.
Holmes County Prosecutor Steve Knowling said the investigation is ongoing and could result in additional charges. A preliminary hearing is set for Feb. 18 in municipal court. A tampering charge carries a possible penalty of up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Attempts to contact Yoder by Ohio Outdoor News were unsuccesful.
The ODA filed court papers last year to destroy 200 to 300 captive deer at Yoder’s hunting preserve after an investigation revealed whitetails at the preserve and two of his breeding farms may been exposed to CWD, a fatal progressive disease that poses a threat to Ohio’s wild white-tailed deer population.
“You have chronically violated record-keeping requirements on farms you own, operate, or house whitetail deer,” State Veterinarian Tony Forshey wrote Yoder on Nov. 26, informing Yoder his deer would be destroyed after an appraisal.
Last April, the ODA quarantined Yoder’s hunting preserve and breeding farms after suspected exposure to CWD. The ODA also accused Yoder of violating state-ordered quarantines by introducing two deer into one of his breeding herds without written consent of the ODA and failing to notify the ODA of deer acquisitions.
On Oct. 22, a deer from Whitetails Hunting Preserve tested positive for CWD.
Yoder is also accused in court filings of acquiring unreported deer between Nov. 6 and Nov. 14 at his preserve, his two breeding farms, and at a breeding farm where he owns deer.
In court filings, the Ohio Attorney General stated Yoder’s failure to meet reporting requirements for captive deer “poses an immediate risk of serious, irreparable harm to animal health in Ohio.”
In December, a Holmes County judge agreed to issue a preliminary injunction against Yoder’s deer operations while the civil case is pending to prevent further violations of quarantine orders.
“More and more issues have been uncovered,” ODA spokeswoman Erica Hawkins said. “We are dealing with someone who is willfully disregarding the law.”
The ODA is working to euthanize Yoder’s captive deer, “sooner rather than later,” Hawkins said, so that the deer can be tested for CWD.
Yoder was told by veterinarian Forshey that even after his deer are destroyed, no additional deer can be held at the perserve until ODA directs such an action.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife collected 350 samples from hunter-harvested deer and road kills in Holmes County for testing during the deer-hunting seasons, which ended Feb. 1, said Susie Vance, a spokeswoman for the DNR Division of Wildlife.
To date, test results from the ODA have proven negative for CWD, Vance said. Sampling for CWD will continue for the next several years, she said.
“People have been great about getting us heads," Vance said. "The cooperation from the hunting community has been good.”
CWD, which hasn’t been shown to infect humans, attacks the brain of the infected animal, produces lesions, and eventually kills the animal. Infected deer, elk, or moose will lose weight, salivate excessively, and increase drinking and urination.
Diseased deer will generally act abnormally, and may stumble or allow humans to get unusually close.
Other states have also taken precautions to keep the disease from infecting their deer populations.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation recently tightened rules on hunters bringing game from Ohio.
At least 19 states have found the disease in their wild deer populations. Ohio was the 14th state to identify the disease in its captive population.
Ohio Outdoor News Editor Mike Moore contributed to this story.