- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri officials approved tougher regulations for deer ranchers and hunting preserves Friday, including a ban on importing deer from elsewhere, in an attempt to stop the spread of disease.

Most of the new rules adopted by the Missouri Conservation Commission are expected to take effect Jan. 30, though existing facilities would have until June 30, 2016, to comply with stronger fencing requirements.

Missouri’s captive deer industry contends the regulations could cripple its business and plans to go to court to try to block them from taking effect.

“Closing the borders, we believe, is unconstitutional. It’s stopping free trade,” said Charly Seale, a spokesman for the American Cervid Alliance, which is helping finance the litigation.

Missouri has a robust deer-hunting industry, with a wild herd estimated at 1.4 million deer and more than 500,000 annual hunters. It’s also become one of the top states for raising captive deer used by fenced-in hunting preserves, with more than 200 licensed breeders and 44 hunting preserves.

The conservation agency, which regulates hunting, fishing and wildlife, began pursuing tougher requirements for captive deer businesses because of concerns about chronic wasting disease, a contagious neurological ailment that can be fatal to deer.

Since 2010, there have been 11 cases of chronic wasting disease among captive deer in north-central Missouri, and 10 cases among wild deer found within 2 miles of one of those private deer facilities, the conservation agency said.

The new regulations aim to prevent the spread of disease by limiting the movement of captive deer and their potential to come near wild deer.

“We’ve worked hard to land in a place where we feel like strikes the right balance” while striving to “protect the resources of this state for future generations,” said Commission Chairman James Blair IV, of St. Louis.

In addition to banning the importation of deer, Missouri’s new regulations will require testing for chronic wasting disease on deer at least 6 months old that die in captivity. That’s tougher than federal guidelines for testing dead deer at least 12 months of age, Seale said.

As initially approved in June, Missouri’s rules would have required new facilities to have two rows of fences, with the perimeter one at least 10 feet tall. The final version sticks with the current standard of a single, 8-foot tall fence but includes a more detailed description of the fencing materials that must be used.

The final version also scales back a new record-keeping requirement to 5 years instead of 15 as originally proposed.

But that wasn’t enough to satisfy members of the captive deer industry, who contend they should be regulated by the state Department of Agriculture just like cattle, hog and poultry farmers.

State conservation officials “don’t have the authority to make those rules on our animals,” said Sam James, president of the Missouri Deer Association. “The real question is what are our animals - are they wildlife, or are they privately owned property?”

State legislators who were frustrated with the conservation agency’s proposed regulations sought to settle the matter themselves by passing a bill in May defining captive deer as “livestock.” That could have stripped the conservation agency of its authority to regulate them. But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, and lawmakers in September fell one vote short of the two-thirds majority required for a veto override.

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Follow David A. Lieb at: https://twitter.com/DavidALieb


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