By LAURA BIRD | Mason City Globe Gazette
CLEAR LAKE, Iowa (AP) — A plowed-under field surrounded by an eight-foot-tall fence is all that remains two years after chronic wasting disease (CWD) was linked to Tom and Rhonda Brakke's deer breeding facility in Cerro Gordo County.
“We probably won't ever own another piece of livestock in the state of Iowa,” Rhonda Brakke told the Mason City Globe Gazette. “We put too much into it and lost too much.”
Calling the past two years a nightmare, the couple questions how the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS) and Iowa Department of Natural Resources handled the situation.
In July 2012, a buck harvested the preceding December at the couple's hunting preserve in Davis County in southern Iowa tested positive for CWD. The buck had come from their breeding facility near Clear Lake.
The testing fell under the Iowa Department of Agriculture's voluntary CWD Surveillance Inventory Program, which requires CWD surveillance, reporting and testing of farmed cervidae (deer, elk, moose) 16 months of age and older that die from any cause.
The Brakkes stopped participating in the program at the breeding facility at the end of 2011 because they'd had a closed herd for 10 years and only raised deer for the hunting preserve. The hunting preserve remained part of the program.
In August 2012 the couple agreed to put down any does that had been with the buck. One tested positive for CWD.
Both properties were also placed under quarantine by the Iowa DNR and the Brakkes were required to build a second fence around the hunting preserve.
In summer 2012 the Brakkes said they offered to take all of their deer to the hunting preserve and let scheduled hunts or they themselves depopulate both herds. Hunts were already scheduled to start in August 2012.
“Let's get rid of all of them,” Rhonda Brakke said. “It was a win, win.”
Doing so would also fit in with the Iowa Department of Agriculture's and Iowa Department of Natural Resources' Chronic Wasting Disease Plan, which calls for “all cervids within facilities having documented chronic wasting disease case will be depopulated within 60 days” regardless of the ability to secure indemnity funds.
However, Brakke said the Department of Agriculture refused to let them move the deer from the Clear Lake breeding facility to the hunting preserve.
Instead, all 230 deer at the hunting preserve were depopulated by the end of January 2013. Of those deer, 208 were tested (the fawns were not) and two were found positive for CWD. Both were traced back to the breeding facility and were not part of the resident herd at the hunting preserve.
CWD can only be determined after an animal is dead.
It wasn't until summer 2014 that all parties came to an agreement on a herd plan for the breeding facility, Brakke said. USDA indemnity funds also became available at that time. All 356 deer were killed in August with 284, or 79 percent, testing positive for CWD.
“We only expected single digits because our deer looked healthy,” Brakke said.
She said the two-year wait created an incubator for the disease and she questions why Iowa's CWD response plan wasn't followed.
Dustin Vande Hoef, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Agriculture, said the department couldn't comment on the case due to pending litigation between the Brakkes and department.
Court documents also don't indicate why depopulation at the breeding facility took two years.
After depopulation was completed at both facilities, the Brakkes cleaned them up as agreed upon.
The USDA also provided an indemnity of $917,100 for the 356 deer depopulated at the breeding facility. The appraised value of the herd was $1,354,250, according to a press release from the Iowa ag department.
“In accordance with the federal CWD rule, and subject to available funding, APHIS is authorized to pay 95 percent of the appraised value of animals, and the federal payment will not exceed $3,000 per animal,” said Lyndsay Cole, assistant director of public affairs for USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. “Therefore, the $917,100 reflects that federal payment as calculated.”
Brakke said they did not receive indemnity for the deer located at the hunting preserve and have filed litigation against the Iowa Department of Agriculture seeking it.
The Brakkes claim the case falls under a constitutional taking because their private business was taken to protect the wild deer population.
The DNR, however, argues in court documents that the couple cannot bring claims against the state for damages due to a quarantine. It cites Iowa Code 669.14(3).
The Brakkes have also filed a judicial review challenging an emergency injunction the DNR issued regarding the hunting preserve property in June 2013.
In spring 2013 the couple began removing the fence at the hunting preserve; however, the DNR issued an emergency order stating that the fence must be put back and the property remained quarantined until 2017.
The Brakkes argue that the DNR has no jurisdiction to quarantine it for that long and that they deserve compensation because the quarantine qualifies as a taking.
An administrative law judge ruled that the DNR didn't have the authority to issue the emergency order; however, after an a DNR appeal, the Iowa Natural Resource Commission (NRC) reversed the decision, according to court documents.
Kevin Baskins, DNR spokesman, said the department issued the five-year quarantine based on the “best science we currently have available,” which states that the prions from infected deer can live in the soil up to five years.
“…Preventing access to wild deer is essential to helping stop the spread of the disease,” Baskins said.
The Brakkes are now asking for a judicial review of the NRC's decision.
Brakke said they are unsure what they are going to do with the hunting preserve now. She noted that it's 80 percent timber, has a 100 foot ravine and creek bed.
“No one is going to want a recreational ground that has an 8-foot fence around it,” she said.
As for the former breeding facility, the couple plans to farm corn and soybeans on it once the quarantine ends.
Information from: Globe Gazette, http://www.globegazette.com/