Score this round for Missouri’s deer farmers.
A ruling by a Missouri circuit court issued late last week blocked enforcement of new regulations by the Missouri Department of Conservation that owners of private deer operations said could put them out of business.
The new regulations, including prohibiting the importation of captive deer and other cervids into the state, went into effect earlier this year. But the preliminary injunction issued last week keeps the Department of Conservation from enforcing those rules until their legality can be resolved.
The tighter regulations were established by the Department of Conservation in the midst of its aggressive campaign to control the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a transmissible, fatal disease that wildlife biologists say threatens the future of Missouri’s free-ranging deer herd.
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Though there is no proof that ties the spread of CWD from captive deer to the wild herd, the hot spot for the disease in Missouri is in the northeast part of the state, where 11 captive deer and 10 free-ranging deer were initially found with the disease in 2010 and 2011.
Since then, another 14 free-ranging deer have tested positive for the disease. But the 20th Judicial Circuit Court ruled that there wasn’t enough proof that the disease posed as serious a threat as Department of Conservation wildlife biologists claim.
“Without question, plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm, up to and including the loss of business, should the regulations remain in effect during the upcoming hunting season,” the court stated in a 33-page ruling, referring to the private deer hunting and breeding operations. “By contrast, defendants cannot show an imminent threat to Missouri’s cervid population or other public interests that would justify the regulations remaining in effect while their constitutionality is finally resolved.”
The Department of Conservation has long contended that CWD is a slow, insidious disease that can take its toll over a long period of time.
The court case, filed by several Missouri deer farmers vs. the Missouri Conservation Commission, is the latest in a heated debate over the management of private deer farms.
The deer farmers say they are being unfairly targeted in efforts to control the spread of CWD. A bill that made its way through the Missouri Legislature last year called for captive deer to be designated as livestock, not wildlife, and managed solely by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. But Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill, saying that deer both captive and wild should be managed by the Department of Conservation.
The deer farmers pursued legal action and Judge Robert D. Schollmeyer of the 20th Judicial Circuit Court ruled that the privately owned animals are not subject to regulations by the Department of Conservation as “communally owned” wildlife resources of the state.
The case now will go to trial, though no date has been set.
“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” said Tim Ripperger, assistant director for the Missouri Department of Conservation. “We represent the people of the state, and it’s our job to protect the Missouri deer herd. This is a chink in our armor when it comes to managing the herd, at least in the short run.
“But we’re hopeful there will be a different outcome when this comes to trial.”