Chronic Wasting Disease is caused by a mutated protein, or prion, that attacks the deer’s nervous system, destroying its brain. The prion can be spread by live deer, carcasses, or even from the soil in which the animals decompose. This disease does not harm humans or other animals, but is fatal to deer or elk (which are from the same animal family). CWD was first found in Colorado in 1967 and has since been confirmed in over twenty other states. There have been 21 positive cases of CWD found in Macon and Linn Counties in north-central Missouri. The first case was found in 2010 in a deer on a private hunting preserve. Twenty additional cases were found in the same two-county area, ten in captive and ten in free-ranging deer. During the 2013 deer-hunting season, tests were run on over 3,600 deer, and there was no evidence found of CWD in these animals. At this time no additional cases have been reported in captive deer. It is interesting to note that any deer that dies in captivity must be sent off and tested for CWD.
The white-tailed deer population has gone through many changes in our state within the last 100 years. Before much of Missouri was settled, deer roamed the land in large numbers. By 1925, their numbers had declined in Missouri to an all-time low of approximately 400 deer in the entire state. With the creation of the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Conservation Commission, programs were initiated to protect and restore the white-tailed deer population. These efforts were successful, and by 1944 the white-tailed deer population had grown to an estimated 15,000 in our state. By the 1980s the deer population in Missouri was growing rapidly, with estimates of just under one million of these animals in the state. Today, Missouri’s deer population is estimated to be over 1.5 million. As a result, deer hunting has become big business in Missouri, supporting 12,000 jobs with an estimated annual boost to the state’s economy of $1 billion per year.
Almost forty years ago, another deer business began to grow—the captive deer industry. It was started by a relatively small group of farmers and has grown into a multi-million dollar business. The captive deer farmers are primarily devoted to breeding white-tailed deer and putting them in fenced hunting preserves to eventually be hunted as trophy deer. Missouri has forty permitted big game preserves and over 200 permitted white-tailed breeders.
Currently, the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) has the authority to manage, protect, and regulate both the wild free-ranging deer and the captive deer. Debate is centered on who should ultimately be responsible for the regulation of the captive deer. The conflict is between the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Missouri White-tailed Deer Breeders and Ranch Association. MDC claims they should have the authority to control all wild and captive deer. Missouri White-tailed Deer Breeders and Ranch Association claim that the MDC is trying to regulate them out of business and the Association wants the Legislature to pass a law, classifying captive deer as livestock for the purpose of state sales and use tax law, meat inspection laws, Missouri Livestock Disease Control and Eradication Law, and the Missouri Livestock Marketing Law. This would take the control of captive deer away from the Dept. of Conservation and put it under the Department of Agriculture.
The Conservation Department has the unlimited, regulatory authority to make and enforce rules and regulations regarding wildlife. They have set in place new rules concerning captive deer—rules that the captive deer ranchers claim to be so stringent that it is impossible for them to operate under. The Department of Conservation proposes to ban the importing of captive deer from other states, require a double fence (increase height from 8 ft. to 10 ft.) to be erected on all new facilities in order to prevent the direct or indirect contact with free-ranging deer, and to require disease testing and surveillance standards.Today, disease-testing programs for deer, including a (CWD) Herd Certification Program, are already being done by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. This testing meets all the requirements for federal USDA program.
Senate Bill 964, seeks to change the classification of captive deer from wildlife to livestock, and place them under the Missouri Department of Agriculture. This bill passed the Senate by a vote of 23-9 and will come to the house for a vote before the end of Session on May 16th.