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Who Should Manage North Carolina Captive Deer?

PHOTO: North Carolina wildlife groups are concerned a proposal to transfer management of captive deer and elk from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the Department of Agriculture could increase the risk of disease. Photo credit: Larry Smith/Flickr.
PHOTO: North Carolina wildlife groups are concerned a proposal to transfer management of captive deer and elk from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the Department of Agriculture could increase the risk of disease. Photo credit: Larry Smith/Flickr.
July 9, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina wildlife groups are urging lawmakers to hit the 'pause' button on legislation they say would change the management of captive deer and elk.

The Farm Act of 2015, recently passed by the state Senate, would switch authority for captive deer from the Wildlife Resources Commission to the state Department of Agriculture.

North Carolina Wildlife Federation CEO Tim Gestwicki says he's concerned that would put the focus on promotion instead of protection, and put wild deer and elk at risk for disease.

"We don't want to see the expansion of deer and elk farming in our state, which has led around the country to chronic waste disease," says Gestwicki. "It's basically ebola for deer."

The Wildlife Resources Commission was formed in 2002 after chronic wasting disease began to decimate herds in other states. Gestwicki says it has not entered North Carolina, but he fears looser regulations under the Agriculture Department would increase the risk.

Supporters of the change say the risk is overblown, and contend regulations are stifling opportunities to expand deer farming in the state.

Richard Hamilton, camouflage coordinator with the North Carolina Wildlife Federation, is a former director of the Wildlife Resources Commission. He says the Agriculture Department is good at what it does, but he thinks captive deer should not be part of the picture.

"They're very competent and they work well with wildlife at this time, but they're not in a position to handle management of the whole program," he says. "It's very expensive. The inspection, the auditing, the restrictions, the administrative procedures, the law enforcement and all of that."

Deer farmers insist captive deer are livestock, not wildlife, although Hamilton disagrees. He sees no benefit in changing what's working.

"It's not going to improve efficiency, and it's not going to save money," he says. "It's not going to better protect the public trust. I don't even think it will serve deer farmers any better, because they still have access to agriculture. They don't have to be controlled by agriculture to take advantage of that area of expertise."

The legislation will soon be considered by the House Finance Committee.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - NC