By DAVID A. LIEB | Associated Press
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri conservation officials are scaling back their recommendations for new regulations of deer farms and hunting preserves that were aimed at controlling disease but had prompted cost concerns.
Staff members at the state Department of Conservation still are suggesting that regulators ban the importation of deer from other states as part of an effort to guard against the spread of chronic wasting disease. But they are dropping a recommendation to require double fencing around farms that hold captive deer for breeding or hunting purposes.
The Conservation Commission is to consider the recommended rule changes during a meeting Friday.
“What we're looking for is balance,” said Tim Ripperger, a deputy director at the department. “Our goal is to protect the wild deer resource of the state and to protect the captive deer as well.”
The proposed deer regulations have been controversial at the state Capitol. Lawmakers who were frustrated with the department's proposals passed a bill in May that would have shifted regulatory oversight of captive deer to the Department of Agriculture by defining the animals as livestock.
The agency nonetheless pressed forward with proposed regulations in June that sought to toughen oversight of the industry in several ways _ banning the importation of deer from other states; requiring testing for chronic wasting disease on all deer at least 6 months old that die in captivity; mandating two layers of tall fencing for new captive deer facilities; and requiring captive deer owners to keep records for 15 years.
Members of the Missouri Deer Association, an industry trade group, had said the tougher regulations could threaten their businesses.
In July, Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the legislation that could have negated the proposed rules. He described Missouri's roughly 200 deer breeding operations and 45 hunting preserves as a “narrow commercial interest” that was trying to “mess with 80 years of success” in regulating wildlife by the Department of Conservation.
Lawmakers tried to override Nixon's veto in September. The effort passed the Senate but ultimately failed by falling a single vote short of the required two-thirds majority in the House.
The Conservation Commission now is set to take a final vote on the proposed regulations but will consider staff recommendations to revise them.
The latest proposal suggests that deer operations be required to keep records for five instead of 15 years and can continue to have a single 8-foot tall fence instead of requiring a second 10-foot high fence for newly permitted facilities. The proposal gives facilities until Jan. 30, 2017, to comply with more detailed specifications for fencing materials that are intended to ensure their strength.
Missouri Deer Association President Sam James said the revised proposal is an improvement but the group plans to file a legal challenge against whatever regulations the commission adopts, asserting that it has no authority over captive deer.
James said the proposed ban on importing deer is “nothing more than an attempt to cripple the business.” He said deer brought to Missouri from elsewhere already are required to undergo more disease monitoring than captive deer sold within the state.
A report by department staff says more than 150 captive deer escaped during the past three years under the current fencing standards. But it says double fencing may not be necessary if current fences are strengthened and the commission adopts other recommendations aimed at preventing the spread of disease by requiring testing and banning the importation of deer.