- Associated Press - Saturday, May 3, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - Two Indiana lawmakers are calling for a study of Indiana’s high-fence hunting operations and the disease risks associated with the state’s nearly 400 deer farms following a newspaper investigation that examined the risks and ethical concerns of the captive-deer industry.

State Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, and Rep. Sean Eberhart, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, say lawmakers need to analyze the disease risks and how to regulate hunting preserves.

“The Legislature would be well advised to get some facts on what’s going on in the rest of the country and to see how some of the other states are responding to this,” Long said.

Indiana lawmakers have spent more than a decade trying to reach agreement on legislation about high-fenced hunting preserves, with no success. A bill that would have set regulatory standards for preserves was narrowly defeated this year in the Senate.

That leaves the state’s four hunting preserves to offer hunts without oversight from wildlife officials. Hunting methods aren’t governed by agricultural humane slaughter standards, The Indianapolis Star reported (http://indy.st/1fucVoY ).

The captive-deer industry is a $1 billion endeavor in which owners breed animals with huge antlers and ship them to fenced preserves, where they’re shot by hunters willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the trophies. A Star investigation earlier this year found that the industry’s primary risk is the spread of chronic wasting disease, a mad cow-like brain disorder that is always fatal to deer.

The disease has never been found in Indiana, but officials worry that could change if the state continues to allow imports of live deer. Because there is no approved test for the disease in live animals, 21 states have already banned the importation of live deer.

Long said he’s willing to consider closing the state’s borders to deer from other states to prevent an outbreak.

Indiana still allows imports from states where chronic wasting disease has not been found. But five Indiana farms were quarantined after state officials learned deer shipped in from Pennsylvania could have been exposed to the disease. The disease hadn’t been reported in Pennsylvania when the deer were sent to Indiana.

Pennsylvania agricultural officials said a 5-year-old doe that once lived on a Punxsutawney, Penn., farm with more than 200 other deer tested positive this spring for the disease after it died. Deer from the farm were sold and sent to farms in Indiana and eight other states.

“Any one of these (farms) could have CWD-positive deer today,” said Bryan Richards, the chronic wasting disease project leader at the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Center.

Shawn Schafer, the North American Deer Farmers Association’s executive director, said there’s no need to limit interstate movement of deer because state and federal officials test captive deer when they die and use farm records to track shipments and find other infected animals.

“This isn’t a raging, blazing case of disease running rampant throughout the industry,” he said.

The Star, however, found poor record-keeping often hampered efforts to track outbreaks.


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