Legislation on Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk would threaten the health of Missouri’s deer population so that a few breeders and ranch operators could continue to offer trophy bucks for hunters willing to pay big bucks.
The audacious provisions are included in two bills that make changes to Missouri’s agricultural laws. Always eager to please a wealthy business interest — no matter how repugnant — the General Assembly wants to reclassify captive deer as livestock, not wildlife, and enable owners to evade sensible health regulations.
Nixon should veto the bills, even though they contain some beneficial agricultural provisions. Republican legislative leaders are to blame for that. In the House, they refused to allow members of either party to make motions to remove the provisions regarding captive deer. Even a proposed amendment to forbid game hunters from shooting a deer while it was drugged was not allowed a vote.
Missouri should not be promoting an industry that selectively breeds deer with freakishly large antlers, then drugs the animals and transports them to a preserve, where they are offered up to shooters willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of bagging a trophy kill. Leading hunting groups in the state and nation object to the activity even being described as a hunt.
Even worse, the fast-growing captive-deer industry is spreading disease and threatening wild herds. Breeders and preserve operators protest that no link has been proven between their industry and chronic wasting disease, an always-fatal malady that has been detected in 22 states, including Missouri. But circumstantial evidence is strong that chronic wasting and other diseases such as tuberculosis show up first in fenced operations and then spread to deer in the wild.
Following the lead of other states, the Missouri Department of Conservation is proposing sensible regulations for the captive deer industry. Most notably, officials want to ban the shipping of deer, elk and related wildlife in or out of the state. More than 20 of the 39 states that allow captive herds have done this.
The conservation department is also recommending that new preserves use double fencing, to better separate deer inside and outside of the barrier. More inspections would be required. And breeders and preserve operators would have to test deceased deer for chronic wasting disease. (The disease cannot be detected in live animals, only after death.)
In Missouri, 44 operators have permits for game-shooting preserves and 221 operators have permits to breed white-tailed deer. Alarmed by the proposed regulations, they convinced the malleable legislature to reclassify their deer as livestock, and place their regulation under the Department of Agriculture.
That move is a good reminder why Missouri voters in 1936 passed a constitutional amendment that created a four-member Conservation Commission to make decisions about fish, wildlife and forests. Politicians in the General Assembly simply couldn’t be trusted for the job. Obviously, nothing has changed.
Missourians understand that animals meant to live in the wild are not livestock. They know that white-tailed deer are a precious resource. While herd culling may be necessary in some circumstances, wild animals must not be exposed to a neurological disease that causes them to starve themselves, stumble, experience tremors and inevitably die.
The legislature should be ashamed to have put the deer population at such risk. Nixon should have no qualms about vetoing such an irresponsible bill.