Note To Our Readers

Ensuring the Health of Missouri’s Deer Herd

More than 500,000 Missourians enjoy deer hunting, sharing
their hunting heritage, and passing that heritage on to future generations.
Missourians consume millions of pounds of venison and share with neighbors in
need through the Share the Harvest Program. The spread of chronic wasting
disease (CWD) could negatively impact deer-dependent businesses that support
more than 12,000 Missouri jobs and generate more than $1 billion in economic
activity annually. The Department is committed to taking action to ensure the
long-term health of our state’s deer herd.

Chronic wasting disease is a fatal disease that affects
members of the deer family. It is different and unrelated to the recent
outbreak of hemorrhagic diseases. Those diseases — blue tongue and epizootic
hemorrhagic disease — are caused by viruses. Their effects are short-term and
localized, and they are often not fatal. Hemorrhagic diseases have been in
Missouri for years, and the white-tailed deer population can cope with them, in
spite of temporary setbacks.

At its June meeting, the Conservation Commission voted to
approve proposed amendments to the Wildlife Code of Missouri regarding the
operation of Department-licensed big game hunting preserves and wildlife
breeding facilities that hold white-tailed deer, mule deer, their hybrids, and
other members of the deer family, known as cervids. These proposed changes for
captive deer are a necessary part of the agency’s strategy, building upon regulations
already implemented in 2011 to help minimize disease concerns in Missouri’s
free-ranging white-tailed deer and ensure the long-term health of our state’s
valued deer herd.

Individual landowners and citizens from several different
organizations representing thousands of Missourians delivered testimony at the
June Commission meeting. All comments received voiced strong support for
advancing the proposed amendments for captive operations to address existing
areas of concern, including: CWD and other diseases, fencing standards, cervid
movement/shipping, and testing requirements.

Currently, Missouri has approximately 40 big-game hunting
preserves and 220 wildlife breeders licensed to hold captive white-tailed deer.
Cumulatively, these locations report holding 9,000 white-tailed deer.
Industry-provided records indicate that more than 200 licensed captive wildlife
breeders hold fewer than 50 deer, while only eight hold more than 100
white-tailed deer. While the number of captive white-tailed deer is small in
size compared to Missouri’s free-ranging deer herd of 1.4 million, appropriate
regulations are essential as captive deer are often moved across Missouri and
from other states, increasing the risk of spreading disease.

  • Proposed amendments approved by the Commission include:
  • A ban on importation of live white-tailed deer,
    mule deer, and their hybrids from other states.
  • Enhanced fencing standards for captive cervid
    facilities.
  • A requirement for all deer 6 months or older
    that die in a Conservation Department-licensed facility to be tested for CWD.
  • Improved record keeping requirements for
    Conservation Department-licensed captive cervid facilities.
  • Prohibition of construction of new captive
    cervid facilities within 25 miles of a facility where a CWD-positive test has
    been confirmed.

These proposed amendments to the Wildlife Code are the
result of nearly two years of extensive review, citizen input, and stakeholder
engagement. They work to reduce the risk of the always-fatal chronic wasting
disease spreading beyond the limited area where it has been found, while
minimizing the economic impact on the licensed captive-cervid industry and the
communities and businesses that benefit from deer hunting and deer-related
activities.

Stated another way, these proposed amendments are designed
to ensure Missouri’s deer hunting heritage and to ensure future generations of
Missourians can enjoy our abundant white-tailed deer resource. The Department
believes these steps are needed to better protect Missouri’s deer herd.

A formal 30-day public comment period, during which any
citizen can provide additional input and perspectives, is anticipated to start
on July 16. Our agency will compile and provide comments received to the
Commission for consideration. Following the public comment period, the
Commission will vote to adopt, amend, or withdraw the changes.

The Conservation Commission emphasized the importance of an
informed, involved public to ensure the health of Missouri’s deer herd both now
and in the future. Details of the proposed amendments, along with a video
presentation shown at the meeting, are available at mdc.mo.gov/node/28400.

Given the importance of this topic, I ask all citizens to
become informed on proposed amendments, to engage, and to provide comments to
the Department. The Department wants to hear from you. Comments can be
submitted online at mdc.mo.gov/deerhealth or on the comment card attached to
this issue of the Conservationist.

Robert L. Ziehmer,
director