When our elected representatives do not represent the views of the majority of the people they represent, we must vote them out of office. As deer hunters, we should start by voting out Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, and follow up with all other state representatives who vote for transferring jurisdiction over "deer farms" from the Division of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture.
Deer hunters in Greenbrier County do not want jurisdiction over "deer farms" transferred to the Department of Agriculture. And with the potential for introduction of diseases such as brucellosis and tuberculosis (known to occur in captive deer), I am shocked that the cattle farmers in Greenbrier County have not already pounced on Sen. Miller for wanting to relax regulations on the movement of captive deer.
West Virginia has a wild deer population of approximately 1 million. There are approximately 400,000 deer hunters in West Virginia. Deer hunting adds approximately $230,000,000 to the state's economy each year. The Division of Natural Resources has a long and successful history of establishing rules and regulations which protect this tremendous biological and economic resource.
What is the real issue? "Deer farmers" have two motives: (1) Big horns mean big dollars; and, (2) for deer that don't meet "trophy" requirements, sell the meat.
To produce big horns, the deer farmers would like more freedom to move animals and semen to improve their gene pool. On the surface, this may seem like a reasonable request. However, if you consider the long history of problems associated with moving animals from one area to another, West Virginia just cannot take the risk of relaxing the current regulations pertaining to "deer pens."
The assertion by Sen. Miller that relaxing the current regulations ... "is an economic development tool" is laughable. Most of the licensed "deer farmers" have no meat to sell and the few who do could probably deliver their entire product in a wheelbarrow. The issue of "deer farmers" selling deer meat possibly can be resolved; but, that issue certainly does not merit transferring the jurisdiction over "deer pens" from the Division of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture.
To date, discussions of "deer farms" has been pretty much limited to biology and economics. I'd like to add another dimension that may be of more importance over the long-term. There are legitimate concerns regarding the impact of "deer farms" on the ethics of sport hunting. Seldom mentioned is the extent to which "hunting" of captive animals has seriously tarnished the image of sport hunting.
I have hunted for over 60 years and certainly am not opposed to "trophy" hunting. I've done a little myself. I've hunted in 22 states and two foreign countries and have killed brown bear, grizzly bear, black bear, moose, caribou, elk, sheep, goat, deer, antelope, muskox, wolves, and numerous species of game birds. But I have never hunted on a game farm, game preserve, over bait or from a man-made tree stand.
TV programs showing a "guide" leading a "client" to slaughter some helpless fenced-in animal is not sporting. In fact, it is disgusting to real sportsmen and the general public. Hanging a big "rack" on a wall which came from a hand-fed "deer farm" animal that had no chance for escape does not make you a good hunter and it certainly does not qualify you as a real sportsman.
The legislation proposed by Sen. Miller to transfer jurisdiction for regulating "deer pens" from the Division of Natural Resources to the Department of Agriculture is highly inappropriate from a biological, economic and sociological basis and must be defeated.
Deer hunters (and farmers), make your voices heard now; and, if that does not work, keep track of who votes for what and be sure your vote is counted in the next election.
Former supervisor of Game Research, WVDNR
Former chief of Wildlife Research
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service