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Conservationists should oppose captive-deer operations

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Indiana has been dealing with the legalities of captive-deer issues for quite some time.

Now, thanks to a recent onslaught of media coming out of the state, Indiana has been thrust into the spotlight of a national debate.

It is time to move forward and take preventive action to protect the state’s wild deer populations before Indiana becomes the next state to have deer infected with chronic wasting disease.


Indiana can learn a lot from Missouri, where CWD was discovered in 2010. There have been 21 cases of CWD identified in Missouri deer. Of those, 11 were captive deer and 10 were wild deer in close proximity to the CWD-positive captive facilities.

Once CWD was discovered, the Missouri Department of Conservation aggressively began removing deer around the captive facility. So far these efforts seem to have worked in at least slowing the spread of the disease as no new cases were identified in 2013.

If Indiana doesn’t want to go through the unfortunate deer-reduction efforts Missouri has had to endure to stop the spread of disease, then the state needs to get ahead of the game and adopt measures to prevent CWD from showing up in the first place.

Indiana must close its borders to the importation of captive deer. Thankfully, State Sen. David Long, R-Fort Wayne, is considering doing just that. You need to make sure your legislators agree with him.

In Missouri, where CWD is already on the landscape, the Missouri Department of Conservation has proposed new rules that would close the state’s borders.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of money behind the captive-deer industry, and they are skilled at spreading it around.

The Missouri Whitetail Deer Breeders and Hunting Ranch Association hired lobbyists to work the legislature and was able to influence legislation that would transfer control of captive deer from the state conservation agency to the state agriculture agency.

Such legislative efforts are becoming a common occurrence around the country. North Carolina is dealing with similar legislation.

There is nothing more to this than the idea that agriculture agencies will be more lenient on captive facilities than conservation agencies.

You want the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to maintain control of deer. No state wildlife agency is perfect, but it is best suited to control white-tailed deer.

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon scoffed at the transfer. He vetoed the legislation to transfer control of captive deer from conservation and proclaimed, “White-tailed deer are wildlife, and they are also a game animal. Putting them behind a fence does not change that fact.”

If you consider yourself a true sportsman, then your opposition is aggressively involved. They are doing all they can to cover up the ills of the captive-deer industry so they can keep making money off people willing to pay to shoot deer in a pen.

And don’t think for a second the so-called hunters aren’t to blame. If there weren’t people willing to pay thousands of dollars to shoot fenced animals, then the industry wouldn’t exist.

Don’t be afraid to tell someone bragging about their penned-raised trophy how little it means to real hunters.

The national organization behind these ranches has hired a public relations firm to try and trick the public into thinking shooting deer in a fence is a sporting act.

They can pay all the money they have to create a smoke screen, but if the hunting public ever rises up and openly condemns these facilities in a united fashion, the issue would end.

At the end of the day, the differences between the two sides of this entire captive-deer issue boil down to this:

Those opposed are citizen conservationists passionate about wildlife and ethical hunting standards who give selflessly in support of public resources. Those in favor are financially invested.

It’s time for conservation to stop playing defense and to go on offense.

If you have yet to engage in this fight, then the time is now. Every Indiana conservationist must take action. Talk about the captive-deer issue in your sporting community. Write letters to your local newspapers. Contact your legislators and insist your family and friends do the same.

Unless you are willing to stand by and watch the hunting heritage you embrace fade away as private fenced facilities become the norm, then it’s on you to take action.

See you down the trail.

Brandon Butler’s outdoors column appears Saturdays in the Daily Journal. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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